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NLCS notebook

October power outage

Utley, Howard are playoff no-shows

Associated Press / October 9, 2008
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For all their big hits and long homers during the regular season, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard have to provide the Philadelphia Phillies with more offense in October.

The slumping stars were a combined 4 for 26 in the first round of the playoffs against Milwaukee, but strong pitching and timely hitting from other Phillies carried the team into the National League Championship Series against Los Angeles. Utley and Howard also had troubles in their postseason debuts last year, and Philadelphia was swept out of the first round by Colorado.

If the Phillies are going to beat the Dodgers and advance to the World Series for the first time since 1993, they'll need their 3-4 hitters to break out of their funks. Game 1 of the NLCS is tonight at Citizens Bank Park.

"I'm trying to find holes, trying to put together good at-bats, trying to get on for the next guy," Utley said. "It's as simple as that. See the ball, hit the ball."

Utley hit .292 with a career-best 33 homers and 104 RBIs this season, doing most of his damage before the All-Star break. But he was just 2 for 15 with four strikeouts against the Brewers. One of the hits was a two-run double that center fielder Mike Cameron should have caught in Game 1.

The three-time All-Star second baseman is batting .154 (4 for 26) with nine strikeouts, one extra-base hit, and two RBIs in his postseason career.

Howard led the majors with 48 homers and 146 RBIs this year, despite a career-low .251 average. He helped the Phillies win their second consecutive NL East title with an outstanding final month, hitting .352 with 11 homers and 32 RBIs in September.

A leading candidate to win his second MVP Award in three years, Howard reverted to his early-season struggles in the playoffs. He was 2 for 11 with five strikeouts against the Brewers. The 2006 NL MVP is batting .217 (5 for 23) with 12 strikeouts, two extra-base hits, and two RBIs in two postseason series.

Combined, Utley and Howard are hitting .184 (9 for 49) with 21 strikeouts, 4 extra-base hits, and 4 RBIs in the playoffs. Those are the kind of numbers that earn star players bad reputations in big games. Just ask Alex Rodriguez.

Utley hit .355 (11 for 31) with two homers and five RBIs against Los Angeles this year. Howard batted .133 (4 for 30) with two homers and nine RBIs against LA.

While Howard finished strong after a slow start, Utley's best month was April, when he hit .352. His average dropped to .279 over the last five months and he had 12 homers in the final 103 games after belting 21 in the first 59.

McCarver rips Ramírez

Manny Ramírez's closing act with the Red Sox and his performance since Aug. 1 with the Dodgers aren't sitting well with Tim McCarver, who will call the NLCS on Fox.

"It's extraordinary - the dichotomy between what he was in Boston and what he is in Los Angeles," McCarver said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I mean, talk about wearing out your welcome in a town, and it was a long welcome with the Red Sox. But some of the things he did were simply despicable, despicable - like not playing, refusing to play. Forgetting what knee to limp on. And now it's washed, it's gone."

McCarver cited Ramírez's numbers after the trade. The left fielder hit .396 with 17 home runs, 53 RBIs, and an on-base-percentage of .489 in 187 at-bats with the Dodgers.

"A rejuvenated Manny, I think it would be fair to say," McCarver said, according to the Inquirer. "More than old Manny. Manny's doing things that even Manny doesn't do, [like] scoring on a double to right field from first base.

"It's a wonderful story in many, many ways, and from Boston's standpoint, it's a horrible story, I would imagine, because he could be doing that for Boston."

Ramírez spoke to the media Tuesday, telling a Los Angeles Times blog: "I was just trying to see the opportunity that I was going to get to change my image. All that [stuff] that was in Beantown wasn't true. I'm just an easy guy to please. A lovely guy."

McCarver told the Inquirer that he's seen the likes of Ramírez before in sports.

"Every sport, there have been people who have held organizations hostage, whether it be Terrell Owens or Randy Moss or Manny Ramírez," McCarver said.

Ramírez isn't interested in talking about his final days in Boston that ended with plenty of acrimony.

"I don't want to talk about the past," he said. "I don't look back. I move forward. I don't have anything bad to say about Boston."

Material from ESPN.com was used in this report.

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