The Phils Without Ryan Howard Would Be Like Gluten-Free Cat Food

Something about it just wouldn't seem right.

The Joy of a Phillies Game, Even When They Stink: What's nice about baseball is it's a picnic. The Phillies may have given up three home runs to Ryan Braun in a 10-4 loss in their home opener, but I still had a good time at the game yesterday. I tailgated with friends in the parking lot beforehand. I met my uncle, a man who's taken me to scores of Phillies games in my life, and we sat in his season ticket seats. I listened to him wax nostalgic on Phillies teams in games past — "Since the Vet opened, I've only missed about three home openers," he bragged — and we drank beers and sighed as the Brewers scored another run. I ran into friends I hadn't seen in forever. I updated an old boss on my life. I actually walked back to downtown up 10th Street because it was nice out, and a friend suggested we walk. Why has no one asked me to do this before? I wondered aloud. (Dan McQuade)

My husband Doug and I were toggling between preseason football and yet another extra-innings Phillies game the other night when we lighted upon a cat food commercial. We don’t have a cat (though we did recently acquire a grand-kitten), so there was no reason to pause. Yet we did. Because the narrator of the commercial was proudly declaring that the cat food in question was gluten-free.

“Is this a commercial for gluten-free cat food?” Doug asked incredulously, just as I said, “Was that a gluten-free cat food commercial?” Because no matter how you feel about the current human gluten-free craze, it seems off the wall to extend it to our feline friends. The ones I’ve had in my lifetime haven’t been big bread eaters, generally. Nor were they particularly fond of pasta. But I never noticed any ill effects from the occasional noodle or cookie crumb. And I’ve had a lot of cats.

The Phils dropped that game, 2-1, in the 11th inning. I couldn’t hold it against them. The night before, with the Fightins down 6-3 and the bases loaded with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, we’d watched Ryan Howard work a full count and were joking about our certainty that he’d strike out when he belted a pitch out of the park. Grand slam! My husband jumped right up out of his chair in delight. Phils win 7-6! Yippee!

When the team failed to make any changes before the trade deadline, I felt a lot like I do every time Ryan Howard comes up to the plate with two outs and the game on the line. I have very little faith that he won’t strike out swinging. But I do have hope. Is there anyone else I’d rather see standing there? I can’t say there is, really. For all the times the Big Piece (what an awful nickname that is) has disappointed, there are all those times he’s come through.

I was shocked when Ruben Amaro didn’t make any trades. But when push came to shove, whom did I want to see traded? Jimmy Rollins? Hell, no. Cole Hamels? With the string of great pitching and bad luck he’s had? No way. Chooch? Chase? Ben Revere, with his uncanny knack for coming through in the clutch? Marlon Byrd, who’s kept the team in it so many times this year?

I love these guys. There are still enough of them left over from the World Series win in 2008 that the pixie dust lingers. As for the newcomers, I’ve got nothing but admiration for Reid Brignac and Cody Asche and Grady Sizemore (who, like Brignac, is married to a Playboy Playmate. You go, guys!). The once-shaky bullpen has been much more solid in recent weeks. It’s true the team runs hot and cold. The last week of July, they lost to the Mets 7-1, beat the Mets 6-0, lost to them 11-2, then beat the Nationals 10-4. That kind of a stretch will make a fan crazy. Then again, you never know which team is going to show up on a given day.

So this is what we’ve got down the stretch. This is who we are. The record might stink, but this season has been entertaining as hell. Sunday afternoon, the Phils battled back from a 6-1 deficit and in the seventh inning had Utley at third base with the winning run, with Ryan Howard at the plate. Two outs, full count. He struck out. Again.

Two innings later, though, he knocked Asche home for the win with a single. Where would we be without him? We’d be like gluten-free cat food. I guess it might help, but it sure doesn’t seem like it would. And something about it just wouldn’t seem right.

Follow @SandyHingston on Twitter.