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Howard grabs homer lead in Phils' win

Howard grabs homer lead in Phils' win

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PHILADELPHIA -- Ryan Howard grew up in St. Louis, and says he gets "amped up" when he has the chance to play against his hometown team.

All that energy showed on Thursday when Howard tagged the Cardinals for two home runs, lifting the Phillies to a 4-1 win in front of a sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park.

"I'm not going to question it," Howard said of his .368 lifetime average against St. Louis. "I'll just roll with it."

The Phillies' first baseman struggled through the season's early months, but lately is looking more and more like the hitter who won the 2006 National League MVP Award. He has been rolling for the past two weeks, during which he has built a 13-game hitting streak, his longest of 2008.

In that span, he has hit .353 (18-for-51) with eight home runs and 18 RBIs. His batting average, which bottomed out at .163 on May 7, is up to .234, the highest it has been since he was at .235 on April 5.

"Getting off to a slow start, it's been a grind," Howard said. "This year's been a grind. It's been a learning process for me. The average may not be there right now, but I'm just going out there, trying to do what I can do."

Maybe the average isn't quite where Howard wants it to be, but his power numbers are surging.

He entered Thursday tied with Chase Utley for the Major Leauge lead in home runs with 25, but quickly broke the deadlock with a two-run shot in the first inning. Howard's RBI total stands at 83, tops in the NL.

"Find somebody that has produced more runs than him," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "That's kind of hard. He's leading the league in homers and he's leading the league in ribbies. Who tops that? That's the name of the game -- produce runs."

The first-inning shot gave the Phils a quick 2-0 lead, an edge they wouldn't relinquish all afternoon, thanks to a brilliant outing by veteran Jamie Moyer. The lefty pitched seven innings, allowing one run on seven hits in earning the win.

"He amazes me," reliever J.C. Romero said. "He paints. I wish I could learn a little bit of art. I know at 45, I won't be pitching."

The Phillies would not fall behind all afternoon as they earned their second straight win. The bullpen, which faltered in two of the three losses to the Mets over the weekend, has looked solid in the past two wins. On Thursday, Ryan Madson and Romero combined for two innings of scoreless relief.

The Phils have now won two out of their past three series after dropping six series in a row. They have three more games at home against the D-backs before heading into the All-Star break.

"[The series win was] very big," Romero said. "Hopefully, we can win another one before the All-Star break and build from that, build some momentum."

Kevin Horan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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