LOS ANGELES — Ryan Howard dropped his black bat. He watched a Paul Maholm slider fly Monday while the Los Angeles Dodgers lefthander screamed curse words. The Phillies won consecutive games for the first time in eight days, and both times, Howard supplied the calming presence.
His two-run blast in the fifth inning of a 7-0 Philadelphia Phillies victory padded Cliff Lee’s advantage. The Phillies scored early against Los Angeles’ fifth starter, watched Lee overwhelm a potent lineup, and could not have devised a better formula for success. They are 9-10.
Lee silenced Dodger Stadium for eight innings in a most dominant manner. He retired 20 straight Dodgers at one point. He struck out 10. He walked none.
For once, his teammates offered support. Ryne Sandberg sat three regulars — Marlon Byrd, Ben Revere and Cody Asche — against the lefthander. He lowered Howard to fifth in the lineup and elevated Carlos Ruiz to the cleanup spot.
Ruiz, who signed a three-year, $26 million deal last winter, entered the day without an RBI in 58 plate appearances. Chris Owings, a light-hitting shortstop for Arizona, was the only player in baseball with more plate appearances (64) and zero RBIs.
The Panamanian catcher, naturally, made his manager look like a genius. Ruiz bashed three extra-base hits and tallied four RBIs. He stroked a two-run double to right in the first inning to open the scoring. He doubled in the third and homered in the ninth. Even when he did not swing, he drew a key two-out walk in the fifth that brought Howard to the plate.
Howard, in his previous at bat, gazed at a Maholm fastball for strike three. He lingered, wondering about the pitch, which caught the outside edge of the plate. When he encountered Maholm in the fifth, he jumped at a first-pitch slider, in almost the same spot as the third-inning fastball.
Howard reached five home runs in his 78th plate appearance, 32 fewer than it took last season. He hit two in two days and has a .906 OPS this season. He is healthy, productive and happy.
There was no need for Lee to finish the game, although he threw 113 pitches and could have done it. But Lee fired 128 pitches in his last start and must pitch again in five days. It was best to save the bullets for another day.