PHILADELPHIA -- Ryan Howard began Thursday night 0-for-3 to the tune of sprinkled boos after each at-bat. By the end of the night, he was pointing to his family during a curtain call.
With the Phillies down by three, Howard came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the eighth. On a full count, he skied his 13th career grand slam to send the Phillies to a 6-5 win against the Astros at Citizens Bank Park. It was Philadelphia's fifth sweep of 2014.
Josh Fields entered from the bullpen in the bottom of the eighth and surrendered an RBI single to Cody Asche that made it 5-2. After allowing another single, Fields was pulled in favor of left-hander Tony Sipp, who gave up a Jimmy Rollins single to load the bases. Two hitters later, Howard took three balls and fouled off four pitches before finally getting his pitch.
"I knew he was going to bury some sliders and I had to try to keep off those sliders," Howard said. "I knew at bases loaded, he was going to give me something in. He was either going to get me in or get something over the plate. He's got to give me a strike to hit."
It's been a tumultuous past few weeks for Howard. He was benched for three days toward the end of July for what Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg called a "mental breather." He delivered the biggest blow and scored the go-ahead run in a 4-2 win over the D-backs on July 27, only to follow that up with a 1-for-25 skid on the ensuing road trip.
As a result, Howard has had to repeatedly answer questions about his monetary value -- his $25 million salary is the highest of any position player in baseball this year -- in relation to his performance on the field -- he's only batting .220. The boos he's heard have been justified. But so have the cheers, even if there have been far fewer of them.
"It is what it is. I mean, it's unfortunate. I'll be honest with you, it's unfortunate that's what happens," Howard said about the bipolar receptions he's received from the fanbase this season. "But I'll go out there and continue to play. I understand what it takes to play the game. I understand it wasn't there early, but it only had to be there once. And it was there for me, so I'll try to build off that."
Thursday night was the capper in what has been a huge -- and much-needed -- series for Howard. He went 5-for-14 with two homers, a double and eight RBIs in the three-game set against the Astros.
"He definitely hurt us in this three-game series," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "I know [pitching coach Brent Strom] went to the mound and talked to Sipp about how we wanted to pitch him, and we were just not able to execute the pitches there. Give Howard credit."
Not a part of the Phillies' future plans, Roberto Hernandez was prudently dealt to the Dodgers on Thursday afternoon. The Phillies have to decide whether his emergency replacement in the rotation, Sean O'Sullivan, is a part of their plans for the final two months of 2014.
In his first tryout to fill the void at the bottom of Philly's rotation, O'Sullivan gave the Phillies essentially what was to be expected. The right-hander, whose contract was selected from Triple-A Lehigh Valley prior to the game, allowed five runs in six innings.
O'Sullivan, who began the day in Toledo, Ohio, had whirlwind of an afternoon. He first learned of his callup at around 1 p.m. ET, and nearly missed the phone call.
"It was hurry up and fast forward as quick as I could to get here," O'Sullivan said. "I almost missed the call. I was ready to go down to take a nap and if I had went to sleep, I would not have gotten the call. Somebody would have needed to come get me. Luckily, I got the call and was able to get here."
From there, he caught a flight at 3:45 p.m., landed at around 5:30 and got to the ballpark about an hour before first pitch -- not exactly the easiest conditions to perform under. But on Thursday, O'Sullivan's biggest adversary was Houston's No. 3 hitter, who had two homers and four RBIs against him.
"I think [the commute] might have had a little bit to do with it, but really, it was Chris Carter. Chris Carter 4, Astros 1. I left a couple pitches up in the zone to him. Big strong guy made me pay for it."
Thankfully for O'Sullivan, The Big Piece made the Astros pay for it last.
Erik Bacharach is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.