Phillies' Howard takes home NLCS MVP

PHILADELPHIA -- Ryan Howard added another piece of hardware with three familiar letters to his trophy case.

Howard was picked MVP of the NL championship series after helping the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies return to the World Series by beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 10-4 in Game 5 on Wednesday night.

The big slugger already had the 2006 NL MVP and 2005 NL Rookie of the Year awards on his resume. Now, he's got an October memento, too.

"It's definitely something special," Howard said. "Right now I'm going to go celebrate, enjoy myself a little bit."

Howard hit .333 (5 for 15) with two homers, one double, one triple and eight RBIs in the series. He had at least one RBI in eight straight postseason games, tying the major league record first set by Lou Gehrig more than seven decades ago. Howard's streak ended when he failed to knock in a run in the clincher.

Throughout the postseason, television cameras have caught Howard in a trancelike state before his at-bats. He sits in the dugout with his head down, eyes closed, hands resting on the knob of his bat and visualizes what he's going to do at the plate.

Whatever is going through his mind, it's working.

"I think that's his way of focusing and basically getting ready," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "I think that he's thinking about his at-bat and things that he has going for him and how he wants to feel and everything when he gets up there.


"Visualization is part of hitting. You can do it once you walk up to the plate and you can step out and look around, things like that, and kind of gather your thoughts, or you can sit in the dugout there, too, and kind of visualize things and really concentrate on what you want to do. It depends on the person and how he feels."

Howard has delivered several clutch hits in the playoffs. None were bigger than his two-out, two-run double in the ninth inning of Philadelphia's 5-4 comeback win in the clinching game of the division series against Colorado.

Trailing 4-2, the Phillies rallied against closer Huston Street. Howard was the fifth batter due up that inning. The All-Star first baseman had a simple request for his teammates in the dugout: "Just get me to the plate, boys."

Chase Utley drew a walk to keep the game going, and Howard's liner drove in the tying runs. He scored on Jayson Werth's RBI single, and the Phillies advanced to the NLCS.

"That hit by Howard was the biggest and most impressive I've seen in my career," said pitcher Cliff Lee, who has been equally impressive on the mound for the Phillies.

Howard kept up his torrid hitting against the Dodgers. He had a two-run double in the series opener and drove in Philadelphia's only run with a homer in Game 2. In the next two games, he got key hits in the first inning to give the Phillies early leads. There was a two-run triple in Game 3 and a two-run homer in Game 4.

"The playoffs are a whole different animal," Howard said. "It's been a good feeling. Just been up there and been relaxed and not trying to do too much, just trying to get good pitches and hit them, basically. Just trying to keep everything simple."

A slimmed-down Howard -- he dropped 40 pounds last offseason -- showed off his new speed, hustling around the bases for that triple and sliding headfirst into third -- one of his two dives in the game.

"I don't think I've ever played on a team that's been so fun," Howard said. "To get back to this point, to have the opportunity to try to do it two years in a row, that's even more special."

Howard finished the regular season with a .279 average and 45 homers, and his 141 RBIs tied Milwaukee's Prince Fielder for most in the majors. Howard became the fourth player to have four straight seasons with 45 homers and 130 RBIs, joining Babe Ruth (seven), Ken Griffey Jr. (four) and Sammy Sosa (four).

Los Angeles didn't intentionally walk Howard in the series after giving Albert Pujols three free passes in its first-round sweep of St. Louis.

Given plenty of chances to swing, Howard hurt the Dodgers over and over again. He gets a $50,000 bonus for winning the NLCS MVP award.

"I was asked many times about why do you pitch to Ryan Howard? Well, we didn't have an opportunity to have a base open, unfortunately," Los Angeles manager Joe Torre said. "Ryan Howard, just from the start of the season until now, has gotten much better in the way -- his approach at the plate."

And he has another MVP trophy to prove it.