Monday, May 15, 2006

Howard To Visit Emergency Room Before Each Phillies Game

Sunday afternoon, the Philadelphia Phillies completed a three-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds with a 2-1 victory in 12 innings. First baseman Ryan Howard was the hero, despite a stomach virus that had sent him to the emergency room and kept him out of the starting lineup. Howard slammed a pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning and won the game in the 12th by going deep again. Based on this success, Howard plans to continue visiting the emergency room before Phillies games.

Howard apparently contracted food poisoning from something he ate in Cincinnati. The stomach virus sent him to the emergency room, from which he returned to the hotel around 3:45 a.m. With Babe Ruth in the news these days, Howard provided an appropriate tribute: a left-handed slugger, on little sleep and almost too sick to stand, taking two pitches out of the park. The only difference is that after the game, Howard left the ballpark with his teammates, not a couple of hookers.

Ballplayers are known for their superstitions, so Howard will continue to get sick as long as Philadelphia keeps winning. Sunday’s victory was the Phillies’ 13th in their last 14 contests, drawing them to within one game of the first-place New York Mets. The club is off tonight before beginning a three-game series with the Brewers on Tuesday. Howard made sure to prepare as he reached the hotel. He learned the location of the most convenient hospital, as well as the best place in Milwaukee to eat spoiled bratwurst.

Howard’s sacrifice appears to be a trend on his team, as the Phillies have discovered that self-abuse can lead to victory. Last Thursday, centerfielder Aaron Rowand made a catch for the ages, snaring a fly ball at top speed before slamming his face into the wall. The crash left his face battered and bloody like Philly’s ultimate sports hero – Rocky Balboa. As Rowand lay on the ground, observers swear they saw the ghost of Burgess Meredith screaming for him to get up. Rowand had to go on the 15-day DL, but his all-out effort saved three runs in a 2-0 triumph over the Mets. Howard has followed his lead, putting the team ahead of his own well-being. Other Phillies may soon follow suit, emulating the albino monk from The Da Vinci Code and whipping themselves in the clubhouse.

Some baseball fans claim that this voluntary sickness is an extreme and unnecessary step for such a talented player. These observers note that Howard was the National League Rookie of the Year last season and is one of the game’s most promising young sluggers. However, he has often struggled against left-handed pitchers when he has not been ill. Sunday’s blasts were against Brandon Claussen and Chris Hammond – both southpaws. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel remarked, “If he’s healthy, he pops out to the second baseman.”

Howard is surely drawing inspiration from the legendary Michael Jordan. In the 1997 NBA finals, the Utah Jazz won games 3 and 4 to tie the series at two games apiece. Always looking for an extra edge, His Airness decided to contract a stomach virus in preparation for game 5 in Salt Lake City. Barely able to stand at times, Jordan scored 38 points in a 90-88 victory. The Bulls went on to win game 6 in Chicago and repeat as champions. One would think that Karl Malone and John Stockton would have learned their lesson for the following season’s rematch. However, both Jazz superstars refused to become ill, making another defeat inevitable.

After a disappointing April, the Phillies may succeed in winning over their demanding fans. The passionate locals love a guy like Howard, who is playing the way they like it: with fire in the belly.