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Howard finds his swing at right time for Phils

Ryan Howard has spent much of the postseason looking lost at the plate, a slugger with most of the pop gone from his bat. It's all come back the last two nights.

Howard has homered three times since the World Series moved to Citizens Bank Park after not going deep in the first 11 games of the postseason. He belted two big flies and drove in five runs in Sunday's 10-2 rout of the Tampa Bay Rays that put the Philadelphia Phillies one win away from a title clincher.

"I look at Ryan Howard and he's a 'carrier,' " said manager Charlie Manuel. "A carrier is somebody that can take your team and get the big hits, knock in runs, put you on your back and carry you. That's one of my favorite statements: Howard is a carrier."

Howard lofted a three-run shot the opposite way to left in the fourth inning off Tampa Bay starter Andy Sonnanstine, then torched Trevor Miller for a no-doubt blast to right in the eighth. He went back-to-back with Chase Utley in the sixth inning of Saturday's 5-4 win for his first long ball of the postseason.

"I know what it takes for me to get right," said Howard, who was just 10 for 40 with three RBIs in the postseason until Saturday. "Sometimes you've got to take a step back, take pitches and get yourself back to where you want to be."

"When he hit the three-run homer tonight, that was big," Manuel said. "That was kind of a lift but at the same time we didn't get overexcited. We knew we still had [a] game to play. We just took it in stride."

Howard became the first player to have a multi-homer game in Series play since Jeff Kent went deep twice for San Francisco in Game Five against Anaheim in 2002. It was the first five-RBI game in the Series since Arizona's Danny Bautista did it in the Diamondbacks' 15-0 Game Six rout of the Yankees in 2001.

The Phillies hit four home runs. The last team to do that was San Francisco, in its 11-10 loss to Anaheim in Game Two of '02.

The Rays have been wary of Howard breaking out, much as they feared Boston's David Ortiz during the American League Championship Series. Other than his key Game Five shot to spark Boston's seven-run comeback, Ortiz didn't hurt the Rays too much.

Howard is starting to destroy Tampa pitching.

"These big power guys, when they hit them they normally come in bunches," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "They get the feel working and all of a sudden every ball looks big and it's in the right spot."

"When you have hands and arms as big and strong as his, all [the ball] has to do is hit the barrel," said Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. "When he's hitting line drives, they're going to go out of the ballpark."

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The Rays scored on solo home runs by Carl Crawford in the fourth and Eric Hinske in the fifth. Hinske, added to the roster earlier in the day when Cliff Floyd was taken off due to a shoulder injury, belted his shot pinch-hitting for Sonnanstine.

It was Tampa Bay's 25th home run in the postseason, the most ever by an American League team. The record of 24 was set by the World Series champion Angels of 2002. The all-time mark of 27 was set by San Francisco, also in 2002.

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Maddon pointed out to plate umpire Tom Hallion that he thought Phillies starter Joe Blanton had a smudge of a foreign substance on his cap, much like Detroit's Kenny Rogers was accused of by the Cardinals two years ago.

"It's nothing sticky. Anybody can go touch it," Blanton said. "It's just basically dirt from the ball."

"We noticed," Maddon said. "It was rather dark. I brought it to [the umpires'] attention. I asked them to watch it and be vigilant about it. Nothing happened but I was concerned about that early on."

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The Rays have set a record for stolen bases in the postseason with 22, besting the mark of 20 set by the 1975 Cincinnati Reds and equaled by the 1992 Atlanta Braves. Center fielder B.J. Upton became the fourth player to steal three bases in a Series game when he pulled that trick Saturday night.

No American Leaguer had ever done that and the last player with three thefts was St. Louis' Lou Brock in 1968.

"It's pretty cool," Upton admitted before Game Four. "Those guys did a lot for baseball and they're great players. Anytime you can be mentioned in the same sentence [with] those guys is an honor."

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Of the 42 previous times a team had a 3-1 lead in the World Series, 36 have gone on to win the title. The last team to overcome such a deficit was the 1985 Kansas City Royals against St. Louis. . . . Temperatures could dip into the 30s tonight as the Phillies go for the clincher.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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