Farewell bash: Howard embracing moment

Veteran 1B homers in penultimate Phillies game amid celebration of storied career

Farewell bash: Howard embracing moment

PHILADELPHIA -- Everybody this week keeps asking Ryan Howard how he feels.

Is he feeling sentimental? Is he wistful? Is he sad? Is he looking forward to Sunday afternoon's season finale against the Mets at Citizens Bank Park, or is it something he is not ready to face? Does he have warm, fuzzy memories rushing through his mind every time he steps onto the field, or is he blocking out those thoughts to try to get through an emotional weekend?

"You're just supposed to be you," Howard said after Saturday afternoon's 5-3 loss to the Mets at Citizens Bank Park. "Your emotions and all that kind of stuff, I don't know if everybody's expecting me to show up and I'm supposed to be a certain way. I'm just myself."

Biggest Pieces: Highlighting Howard's career

Howard played the penultimate game of his Phillies career Saturday. He hit a game-tying home run to right field in the fifth inning. It was the 382nd home run of his career, moving him into a tie for 67th place on the all-time list with Jim Rice and Frank Howard. The Phillies fans in the stands -- if Mets fans did not outnumber them Saturday, they certainly were more boisterous -- stood and cheered, requesting a curtain call from the greatest first baseman in Phillies history.

Howard obliged.

"It was cool, it was cool," Howard said.

It has been a Howard lovefest this weekend. Everybody knows these are the final days of his Phillies career, if not his baseball career. He is in the final season of a five-year, $125 million contract. The Phillies have a $23 million club option for 2017, but they will take a $10 million buyout instead.

The Phillies have a pregame ceremony planned Sunday, which begins at about 2:30 p.m. ET.

"Tomorrow, whatever it brings, I'll embrace it and take it and enjoy it," Howard said.

Howard has showed in the past three months that he could play beyond Sunday. He is hitting .268 (37-for-138) with six doubles, 14 home runs, 34 RBIs and a .943 OPS in 48 games since July 3. Howard has 25 home runs overall and has averaged a home run every 13.08 at-bats this season, which is his best home run rate since 2008 (12.71) and the fourth-best home run rate of his career.

"I want to continue to play somewhere next year if I'm not back here," Howard said.

He will not be back, although the announcement will not become official until after the season. In the meantime, the Phillies and their fans will make sure Howard knows Sunday how much they appreciate him.

Howard leaves not only as the greatest first baseman in Phillies history, but one of the greatest players in Phillies history who played in one of the greatest eras in Phillies history. He helped the organization win the 2008 World Series, two National League pennants and five NL East titles. He won the '06 NL Most Valuable Player and '05 Rookie of the Year Awards. He made three NL All-Star teams and finished in the top five of MVP voting four times and in the top 10 six times.

The team's success in that time doesn't happen without Howard.

"I haven't been around here very long, but just stepping in you can tell he is a pretty big figure here," Phillies pitcher Phil Klein said.

He is the Big Piece, after all.

Sunday the Big Piece plays his final game with the Phillies. Is he ready for it?

"I'm just trying to enjoy it, trying to embrace everything and take it as is," Howard said. "I'm not trying to look too much into anything. Actually, I'm just trying to go out there and win these ballgames. I mean, I think I've said it before, things will hit you when they hit you."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.