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October 02, 2016

Piece out: Mackanin 'couldn't be happier' as Howard set to star in Game 162

At 12:12 p.m., Ryan Howard walked into the Phillies clubhouse for the final time.

Howard was penciled into the fifth spot in Pete Mackanin’s batting order for Sunday’s matinee with the New York Mets, Game No. 162 on the Phillies schedule. Prior to the game, players began getting their personal belongings together and clubhouse attendants used shipping tape to get boxes in order.

You don’t have to leave, but you can’t stay here.

Many of the players in the overfilled October home clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park will be back when the team reconvenes in Clearwater, Fla., in February in four months, including Sunday’s starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff and fellow right-handers Vince Velasquez and Jake Thompson, infielders Maikel Franco, Freddy Galvis, and Cesar Hernandez, and outfielders Odubel Herrera, Roman Quinn and Aaron Altherr, just to name a few.

For the first time since 2001, Ryan Howard will not report to Clearwater.

The Phillies will honor the former MVP and last remaining member of the 2008 World Series champions (and two-time pennant winners, five-time division champs) prior to Sunday’s game. A ceremony is set to begin a half hour before first pitch, at 2:30 p.m., and it will be televised live by Comcast SportsNet.

After that, it’s all up to the fans for the length of the ovations and curtain calls, Howard for his role in creating those moments both on his final day in a Phillies uniform and the dozen years that preceded 2016, and on Mackanin, who was still unsure how he’d handle Howard on the final day the iconic slugger walks off the field at Citizens Bank Park in red pinstripes.

“I was just thinking if he hits a home run his first time up, I considered letting him go out on the field and I’m going to do that at some point and bring him off and that would be his last hit perhaps as a Phillie,” Mackanin said of Howard, who hit his 382nd career home run in Saturday’s loss to the Mets.

But Pete doesn’t want to pull the Big Piece too early, either.

“Do I want to do (it) that early? Do I want to wait?” Mackanin said. “I don’t want to wait (and go) into the ninth where a home run would win the game. I would prefer to have him come off the field to an ovation by the fans, so I don’t know if he’ll have a chance to win the game in the ninth inning.”

But no matter how the manager handles it, Howard is surely in line for more than a few moving ovations on his final day as a Philadelphia Phillie. In the last decade and a half, he has created dozens of memories that Philadelphia sports fans will cherish for the rest of their lives.

On Sunday, it’s a chance for everyone to give back and send Howard out with a lasting impression for his own memory bank.

“I always considered him a true professional,” Mackanin said. “I’m happy for him. I hope he plays extremely well today and whether he does or not is beside the point. He deserves a lot of recognition and I couldn’t be happier for him.”

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21