Howard Makes Believers Out of Japanese Fans

Whether it's in the United States or overseas, Ryan Howard just loves to play the game of baseball and hit homeruns. His power was a highlight of the recent Japanese tour by major league players.

First baseman Ryan Howard picked up in Japan right where he left off in Philadelphia.

Howard, who led the majors with 58 home runs and 149 RBIs in 2006, was named MVP of the MLB All-Star team that swept a five-game series against the Japanese all-stars in early November. Howard batted .556 with four homers and eight RBI in the series.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, a fan favorite during his playing career in Japan, guessed Howard's sensational performance caused him to become even more popular with fans in the Far East.

"When I saw him hit that ball over the double backstop (in center field at the Tokyo Dome), I figured he might've wiped me out," Manuel said.

The MVP recognition may have been a prelude to an even more prestigious MVP honor. Howard and Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols are the top candidates for the National League MVP award, which will be announced November 20.

Baseball writers vote for the NL MVP, but most of Howard's peers believe he should be the winner. Howard was named Player of the Year and Most Outstanding Player in the National League in the annual Players Choice Awards.

As for Howard, he was his usual humble self on the tour, signing autographs and constantly posing for pictures with fans. He even seemed to appreciate the finer points of Japanese baseball. "When I hit my first home run, I got a little flower. So I thought I might get a bouquet if I hit another one," joked the big first baseman.

While Howard wowed the Japanese crowds, it doesn't appear that a Japanese export will be wowing the fans in Philadelphia. The Phillies didn't bid on Japanese 3B Akinori Iwamura and weren't planning to bid on any Japanese pitchers either, according to GM Pat Gillick.

Previously, Gillick had success with players from the Far East. As the Mariners' GM, he signed RHP Kaz Sasaki in 2000 and OF Ichiro Suzuki in 2001.

Rather than bringing in a high-priced free agent to play third base, the Phillies seem content to sign a lower-cost option like Mark DeRosa or Wes Helms to platoon with defensive whiz Abraham Nunez.

"He made a believer out of me with his defense," manager Charlie Manuel said of Nunez, who batted only .211 with two home runs and 32 RBI.

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