Basher

Philadelphia is known for the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and is the City of Brotherly Love.

While the hearty citizens are terrific sports fans, they can be overly-critical and some are down-right cruel when their athletes don’t perform at expected levels.

That Mike Schmidt, the finest player ever to wear a Phillies’ uniform, Hall of Fame 76ers’ forward Julius Erving, and Santa Claus were booed in this city is true.

A once down-trodden franchise that wallowed near the cellar, the Phillies have been a model for more than half a decade.

Through last Sunday, the Phillies had the best record in the majors (78-41), and own a commanding lead over the Atlanta Braves in the National League East.

One player is never entirely responsible for what happens on the field, but it could be argued that Philadelphia wouldn’t be where it is without three-time All-Star first baseman Ryan Howard, who leads the big leagues with 95 runs batted in, and is sixth in the NL with 26 homers.

Howard’s power is incredible, and has resulted in him clouting 40 homers or better four times. He’s also seeking a sixth consecutive season with 100 or more RBIs.

Last week the visiting Phillies swept the Dodgers three games, with Howard getting four hits in 12 at-bats, scoring three runs and driving in four.

When healthy, Philadelphia’s lineup is equal to the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

The Phillies’ infield is stellar with Chase Utley at second base, Jimmy Rollins at shortstop and Placido Polanco at third base.

After Philadelphia assembled its vaunted starting pitching staff (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt) it was the choice to reach the World Series.

Since Howard became a regular in 2005, the Phillies have been the class of the Senior Circuit having qualified for the postseason four times.

The city was beside itself in 2008 when the Phillies claimed their second World Series banner by defeating Tampa Bay.

Philadelphia defended its title in 2009, but was stung by the Yankees in six games.

Howard’s nickname is “The Big Piece,’’ which is appropriate given that he stands 6-feet-4, and tips the scale at 240 pounds.

In Howard’s first full-season he bagged 22 homers, had 63 RBIs, and was voted Rookie of the Year.

Howard’s a left-handed swinger and an extreme pull hitter. As such, the defense is aligned to take away the right side.

This hasn’t bothered Howard, who reached 100, 150, 200 and 250 homers in the fewest games ever.

Howard dazzled the voters after his 2006 campaign when he socked a Phillies’ record 58 homers (Schmidt had 48) with a career-best 149 RBIs, a .313 batting average, and a .659 slugging mark.

Howard recently signed a long-term deal that guaranteed he’ll be in red pinstripes for some time. There were a few who claimed the Phillies over-reacted. Time will tell.

For now, Philadelphia is poised to make it five straight playoff appearances, and Howard’s been in the middle of it.

Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at richsports5@sbcglobal.net.

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