The Phillies may not be headed to the playoffs, but Ryan Howard and Co. kept the rest of the National League in suspense right up until the end.
The first baseman had a furious September, hitting .398 (36-for-93). It didn't quite get Philadelphia over the hump, but it was plenty enough to earn him the National League Player of the Month award for September.
"This is the best season I've been around," manager Charlie Manuel said. "Pitchers don't know what to do with him."
Such has been the case throughout the season, as Howard blasted a team-record 58 home runs, 10 higher than Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt's previous record, set in 1980. Nine of those came in September, to which he added eight doubles, 20 RBIs, 21 runs scored and a .561 on-base percentage.
What's better yet, the 26-year-old has managed to keep everything in context, calmly keeping opposing pitchers in fits as he slugged hit after powerful hit.
"I'm trying not to get sucked in by everything that's going on right now," Howard said on Sept. 9, one week after Philadelphia kicked off its 18-10 month to come within sniffing distance of its postseason dreams. "I'm just trying to stay focused on the task at hand, which is making the playoffs."
Though Howard and his teammates fell just short of the ultimate goal, it didn't keep the baseball world from rubbernecking at the lefty's amazing season. The 2005 NL Rookie of the Year winner even garnered more than a little praise from a baseball great.
"He keeps me up after 10 at night," Schmidt said. "I used to go to bed after the fourth or fifth inning, but now I have to stay up and watch his next at-bat."
Howard was hot out of the gate during the month, going 4-for-4 and blasting three homers on Sept. 3 to give him numbers 50, 51 and 52 on the year, making him the first Major Leaguer to hit 52 in his sophomore campaign. He hit his final home run of the season on Sept. 22 to end with 58 long balls. It was his only hit in three at-bats against Florida, so he made it count, with a three-run shot in the third inning during the Phillies' 5-2 win.
In between, Howard racked up 11 multihit games in 28 tries, and drew 35 walks. He is modest about his success, offering only that he just tries "to provide a spark and do what I can. It's usually one hit or one play ... something."
But Schmidt called it as he saw it.
"Right at this moment in time, he might be more dangerous than Barry Bonds ever was in his prime," he said. "I don't know that Barry Bonds ever went through a period like Ryan Howard has just gone through. I've never seen anyone in the Major Leagues who is treating the game almost like an oversize kid in the Little League World Series. All he's got to do is get a ball out over the plate and it's a home run. If it's not a home run, it's a ball hit on the line that had he got it up, [it would've been] a home run."
Howard won Player of the Month in August as well.
Other players receiving votes were Colorado's Matt Holliday (.333, 10 home runs, 34 RBIs) and Garrett Atkins (.364, six HR, 26 RBIs), St. Louis' Albert Pujols (.368, nine HR, 27 RBIs), Houston's Lance Berkman (.330, nine HR, 24 RBIs), Los Angeles' Rafael Furcal (.369, six HR, 14 RBIs) and Marlon Anderson (.375, seven HR, 15 RBIs), Atlanta's Brian McCann (.318, eight HR, 27 RBIs) and Howard's teammate Chase Utley (.306, 10 HR, 22 RBIs).
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.