- Associated Press - Friday, February 18, 2011

CLEARWATER, FLA. (AP) - Ryan Howard never saw a replay of the final pitch he took that ended the Philadelphia Phillies‘ quest for a third straight NL pennant.

The memory lingered without any need for visual aid.

“It took me a little while to let it go. I had a sick feeling in my stomach,” Howard said Friday. “But I finally got over it once everything was over and the season was over. It stuck with me a little bit, but I tried to focus on this year.”

The Phillies were trailing the San Francisco Giants 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth in Game 6 of the NL championship series. Closer Brian Wilson had walked two in the inning, putting runners on first and second when Howard came to the plate with two outs.

Howard worked a full count before he looked at a 90 mph slider at the knees. Plate umpire Tom Hallion called him out to finish off the Phillies.

Does Howard still think the pitch was low?

“Doesn’t matter,” Howard said. “I didn’t watch it. I don’t really care to see it because you can’t go back and change it. I’m focused on this year.”

Howard is coming off a down season for him. He hit .276 with 31 homers and 108 RBIs. Those are terrific numbers for many others, but Howard averaged 50 homers and 143 RBIs from 2006-09.

“It’s funny to me because everybody talks about my power numbers from last year and how, ‘Oh, Ryan. Your power numbers were down’” Howard said. “I think everybody forgot I was out for a month, that I was hurt and down for a month because I was right there on the leader board for home runs and RBIs. As far as that stuff, I don’t think it was an issue. I got hurt.”

Howard missed three weeks with an ankle injury in August. He was on pace for 36 homers and 126 RBIs _ still below his career averages _ before he got hurt.

Howard entered last season averaging a homer every 12.1 at-bats. Last year, he went deep once every 17.7. That was his average before the injury and also for the entire season.

“I think last year I hit the most balls I’ve ever hit that knuckled for some reason,” Howard said. “I just wasn’t getting the backspin for some reason. I would square balls up and they would just knuckle. You go up there and once you hit the ball, you can’t control what happens.”

Howard did cut down on his strikeouts. He fanned 157 times, averaging one whiff per 3.5 at-bats. Coming into the season, he struck out once every 3.06.

“Obviously you don’t go up there trying to strike out,” Howard said. “I didn’t really change my approach too much. It was a matter of going up there and being a little more patient. That was it.”

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel would gladly take more strikeouts if it meant more homers and RBIs.

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