It was a long offseason for Ryan Howard.

Naturally, when you make the final out and your team is eliminated from the postseason, that particular loss will linger. Howard looked at strike three in Game 6 of the NLCS against the eventual World Series champion Giants. He never dwelled on the circumstances.

As usual, Howard came back strong in 2011.

While his average was hovering around the .250 mark for most of the season, the slugging first baseman still managed to smack 30 doubles and 33 home runs to go along with 116 RBIs. Don’t discount the 75 walks, either.

 

That’s six consecutive seasons with no less than 31 homers and 108 RBIs, which came last season.

“No one ever likes to be the last out of the playoffs,” said Howard, who believes he will be 100 percent from a left ankle injury when the playoffs begin. “We win as a team and we lose as a team. That’s the great thing about this group. We all support each other. We came to spring training with a common goal.”

That common goal is to win a second World Series in four years. Adding Cliff Lee and Hunter Pence sure will help.

“Being on a club where they bring in players like Cliff, Hunter and other players that makes us better is something special,” Howard said. “We know the organization wants to win so badly. So do we as players. We’ll do anything we can and we like our chances when everything is clicking.”

In the clutch

The debate rages on about whether Howard is clutch. But who can forget that two-out hit that tied the game and helped send the Phils to the 2009 NLCS.

1. Just get me to the plate boys: That is what Howard told his teammates prior to scoring Chase Utley in that 2009 NLDS game vs. Colorado.

2. With runners in scoring position: Howard hit .298 with six homers and 78 RBIs in 2011. Over the past three years, he is at .288 with 259 RBIs.

3. Better than Schmidt: He has 10 career grand slams — the Phillies’ all-time leader, three ahead of Mike Schmidt.

4. The bad: But there are those recent playoff downers, too. In the 2010 postseason, he struck out 17 times with an NLCS-record 12.

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