Phillies’ slugger too much for Cardinals

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

By Dan Gelston

PHILADELPHIA – Ryan Howard knows two ways to take the focus off his anemic average.

Go deep. Drive in runs.

“I can’t control what people look at,” Howard said.

Howard homered twice, drove in three runs and continued to inch his batting average toward a more respectable level, leading the Philadelphia Phillies to a 4-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday.

“He does about twice as much as other guys do,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.

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Howard lined a two-run shot to left-center off Braden Looper (9-7) in the first and connected again in the sixth. He now leads the National League with 27 homers, two better than teammate Chase Utley, and 83 RBIs.

“I’ve been staying on it and trying to hit it wherever it’s pitched,” Howard said.

Howard was batting in the .160s in early May, was at .215 coming into this month and was upset after hearing some mild boos from the finicky fans. But the former MVP is hitting .353 (18-for-51) with eight homers and 18 RBIs over a 13-game hitting streak that’s lifted his average to .234. He’s heard nothing but wild cheers after every deep home run.

“There’s been a lot of adversity,” Howard said. “It’s always a grind.”

While he still leads the league in strikeouts, Manuel said he could live with all the whiffs as long as Howard produces runs and hits in big moments. He hit the tiebreaking homer in the eighth inning of Wednesday night’s 4-2 victory and set a team record for most RBIs before the All-Star break.

“Find somebody that’s produced more runs than him,” Manuel said. “I think that’s kind of hard to do. Who tops that? What’s the name of the game? To produce runs.”

Howard’s homers were enough run support for 45-year-old Jamie Moyer (8-6), who won for the first time since June 12.

Ryan Madson followed Moyer with 1 1/3 scoreless innings. Manuel gave closer Brad Lidge the game off, leaving J.C. Romero to get two outs for his first save in five chances.

Moyer slumped in his last four starts, going 0-3 with a 4.13 ERA. But he struck out four in this one and was never in any real serious trouble over seven solid innings. Yadier Molina’s RBI single in the fourth was the only run scored off the veteran left-hander.

Moyer knows two numbers are usually connected to him: his age, and the speed of his fastball. He hit the low 80s in this one, relying on his command and groundballs to bail him out of jams.

“The thing I can look at is that I’m still doing it,” Moyer said. “I’m proud of that.”

The NL East-leading Phillies staked Moyer to a 3-0 lead in the third on Utley’s RBI double down the first-base line. Utley came close to tying Howard in the fifth for the home run lead, but his drive fell short on the warning track.

“We put a whopping four on them again,” Manuel cracked. “That was enough though.”

Looper allowed four runs and seven hits in six innings.

“He made some good pitches and some that weren’t so good,” manager Tony La Russa said.

Notes: The Phillies sent LHP J.A. Happ to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Happ started Wednesday night’s game, but was not needed to pitch again before the All-Star break. The Phillies purchased the contract of INF Mike Cervenak from Lehigh Valley. Happ might not return after the break if the Phillies believe RHP Brett Myers is set to return to the rotation. Myers, their opening-day starter, pitches for Double-A Reading on Saturday and likely will make at least more minor league start after that. … The Cardinals placed LHP Mark Mulder on the disabled list, one day after he left his comeback start after facing only three batters. They purchased the contract of LHP Jamie Garcia from Triple-A Memphis. … Gregg Dobbs’ pinch single in the seventh gave him 18 already this season – the most on the Phillies since Dave Philley had 18 in 1958.