Ryan Howard is making an MVP run while playing through a threat that he might never walk again. A month ago, Howard told the Philadelphia media this week, he was made aware of a letter post-marked in Scranton, Pa., in which a fan threatened to shoot him and cripple him.
“He said he wouldn’t kill me. He would cripple me,” said Howard, who played for the Phillies’ Triple-A team in Scranton in 2004-05.
The letter was from a Mets fan who said David Wright, not Howard, deserved to win the home run derby competition at the All-Star Game.
“It didn’t bother me. If he’s writing letters like that, that dude’s got bigger problems than me.”
The Phillies forwarded the letter to the Philadelphia police, who with other law enforcement agencies are investigating. There were no racial overtones, Howard said.
Howard, the 2005 NL Rookie of the Year, has joined St. Louis first baseman Albert Pujols and Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran in the MVP race while also closing in on Mike Schmidt’s franchise home run record.
Howard hit his NL-leading 43rd homer Saturday, five short of Schmidt’s Phillies record of 48 set in 1980.
Since learning of the letter, Howard has 12 homers and 33 RBIs. He leads the league with 111 RBIs.
The Phils, by the way, seem disinclined to sign new franchise cornerstones Howard and Chase Utley to long-term deals, feeling extended deals to Bobby Abreu and, especially, Pat Burrell did not pay off.
When the Dodgers won 17 of 18 to jump ahead in the NL West, it was the franchise’s best streak 1899, when Wee Willie Keeler and the Brooklyn Superbas went 20-1.
The last team to win 17 of 18, according to Elias, was the 1986 New York Mets, who went on to win the World Series that year. Minnesota had a 19-1 streak this season.
“I’m sure it’s something we’ll look back on and say ‘Wow, that was a good stretch,’ ” Dodgers catcher Russell Martin said.
“Right now, we’re just trying to look ahead and come out every day and keep playing solid baseball.”
The Dodgers gained 11 games in the NL West in a 20-day span. They were in last place on Aug. 1.
The run began four days before they acquired Greg Maddux from the Cubs. Maddux has been almost flawless after being reunited with general manager Ned Colletti, a former Cubs executive.
Maddux threw an astounding 68 pitches in eight innings last Sunday, a game Martin won with a walk-off home run in the 10th. Maddux retired the last 21 he faced.
“He played with us,” San Francisco manager Felipe Alou said. “He makes you chase the pitch he wants to make.”
After Detroit second baseman Placido Polanco suffered a separated shoulder while making a diving catch in Boston, Ivan Rodriguez came out from behind the plate to make his first regular-season appearance at second.
The next night, Rodriguez made his first career appearance in the leadoff spot for Polanco.
“All I know is, I’ve got a Hall of Famer, and whatever I want him to do, he does,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “That’s pretty good. I give that guy a lot of credit.
“There’s a guy who could make your life a little tough if he wanted to. He’s done nothing but make my life pleasant. He’s told me from Day One, ‘Whatever you need, whatever you want, I’ll do.’ ”
It was no secret that Rodriquez and former Tigers manager Alan Trammell did not have the same relationship.
UPTON UP FRONT
B.J. Upton apologized to his Tampa Bay teammates when he was recalled Aug. 1, hoping to clear the air regarding remarks attributed to him and Triple-A Durham teammates Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes in USA Today.
Upton, Young and Dukes — the three top prospects in the Tampa system — expressed dissatisfaction with remaining in the minor leagues, irking Rays manager Joe Maddon and executive vice president Andrew Friedman.
“I told them I didn’t mean any disrespect to anyone,” said Upton, 22, who spoke without bring prompted.
“It showed a lot of courage and a lot of honesty,” Maddon said. “He was very brief, but I thought it was great.”
BACK IN THE BIGS
Chris Michalak, an original Diamondback, returned to the majors last Saturday after a three-year absence to help a weary Cincinnati bullpen and got a victory in his appearance.
It was Michalak’s first major league appearance since May 26, 2002, while with Texas, and his first victory since Sept. 2, 2001.
“It makes all the years, all the bus trips down in Triple-A, it makes it worthwhile,” said Michalak, 35. “To come here and help the team out in the middle of a pennant race, that’s what everybody plays for.”
A record day
Travis Hafner tied Don Mattingly’s major league record for grand slams in a season when he hit his sixth a week ago, during Cleveland’s 13-0 victory over Kansas City. Hafner’s slam came in a 11-run first inning against Luke Hudson, who pitched one-third of an a inning and was charged with all 11 runs. The last pitcher to allow that many in the first was Kid Nichols, who gave up 12 to Brooklyn in 1897.
Reyes courts history
If Mets shortstop Jose Reyes raises his average to .300 this season, he would join Honus Wagner (1908) and Willie McGee (1985) as the only players in major league history to hit .300 while getting 50 stolen bases, 20 doubles, 15 triples and 10 home runs. Reyes had a three-homer game Tuesday.
Johnny Damon’s two home runs in a doubleheader Friday gave him 20 for the season, enabling him to become the fifth player to hit 20 or more for both the Yankees and Boston, according to Elias. The others are Babe Ruth, Don Baylor, Jack Clark and Mike Stanley.
“He needs a bigmarket team to justify the kind of contract he deserves. It’s really up to (general manager) Billy (Beane). I can make him a real estate deal. You never know what can happen. No matter where he goes, I wish him so much well.”
- A’s owner Lewis Wolff, apparently saying goodbye to Barry Zito, whose contract is up
Precocious Angels rookie Jered Weaver looks to go 10-0 — an AL rookie record — against Boston on Thursday.