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Howard takes 'full responsiblity' for Phils' loss
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LOS ANGELES – Ryan Howard lingered in the clubhouse after most of his teammates had already showered and headed for the team bus. He wore a look of despair on his face as he sat in front of his locker and recounted his role in the Phillies’ 6-4 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday night (see Instant Replay).

“I take full responsibility,” he said. “I’ve got to be better than that.”

Howard was involved in two ugly plays -- one at the plate, one in the field -- that pointed the Phillies toward the loss.

First, he killed a rally in the fifth inning when he swung at a 3-0 sinker off the plate from Zack Greinke and bounced into a 1-6-3 double play with two men on base.

Later, Howard failed to make a play on a routine bunt in the bottom of the seventh inning. The Dodgers’ turned that miscue into the go-ahead run as they scored twice in the inning against rookie Justin De Fratus to turn a one-run deficit into a one-run lead.

“Those are two plays, two key moments that changed the flow of the game,” Howard said. “It sucks. I’m upset I didn’t make that play. I slipped and I cost my team the game.

“And on the 3-0 pitch -- I have to make a better swing. Those are two things I had control over in the game and I didn’t get it done. (Jonathan) Pettibone threw well and Chase (Utley) swung the bat well. I have to do a better job.”

The look on Howard’s face after the game showed just how much the loss hurt.

The Phillies are struggling to remain on the periphery of the race in the NL East. They battled back from an early 3-0 deficit to take the lead on a home run by Utley in the seventh. The comeback came against one of the best pitchers in the game in Greinke. This is a game the Phils have to win.

Instead, they are 38-42, 7½ games back in the NL East and 2-2 on this road trip. They have blown late leads in both losses.

Pitching 40 miles from his hometown of Yorba Linda, with several dozen family and friends in the stands, the 22-year-old Pettibone fought some nerves early. He allowed three hits and three runs in the first inning, but just one hit and no runs over the next five innings to keep his team in the game until Utley’s go-ahead homer in the seventh.

The Phils had tied the game on RBI singles by Utley and Jimmy Rollins in the fifth and had a chance to do more damage when Howard showed zero plate discipline in swinging at a 3-0 sinker off the plate and bouncing into a rally-killing double play.

Howard is in an 0-for-16 skid. He was 0 for 14 when he came to the plate with runners on first and second and one out in that inning.

Manager Charlie Manuel loves to give his hitters the green light on 3-0.

“He’s kind of automatic,” Manuel said of Howard. “He’s been hitting 3-0 since he was in Double A. At the same time, he knows we want him to get a good ball to hit.

“He’s earned the right over the years to hit 3-0. He’s got to do a better job at it, though.”

Utley’s homer in the seventh put Pettibone in line for a win. Manuel went to Justin De Fratus to protect the lead in the bottom of the inning. He allowed a killer leadoff walk to A.J. Ellis. The Dodgers then put a second man on base when Howard muffed Uribe’s bunt. The runners moved up on a bunt and De Fratus walked Hanley Ramirez intentionally. De Fratus then struck out Skip Schumaker for the second out.

That brought up the most dangerous hitter on the planet -- Dodgers’ rookie masher Yasiel Puig.

De Fratus got ahead of Puig with two sliders, then went back to the pitch at 0-2. The pitch was off the plate, but not far enough. Puig hooked it to left for a two-run single. On 0-2, De Fratus can’t give Puig a pitch to hit. He did and it cost the Phillies.

“I didn’t think it was a bad pitch,” De Fratus said. “But I wanted to bounce it and get it in the dirt and I didn’t.”

Manuel thought the pitch was too good.

“I thought he could have expanded the zone even more,” he said.

These are the growing pains that a young bullpen must endure. They are the growing pains that may ultimately derail the Phils’ chances of getting into contention.

A player like Howard, however, should be long past growing pains. He said this was his loss and there was no arguing that.