PHILADELPHIA — Ryan Howard took a mighty cut, dropped his bat and admired the shot.
The big slugger didn’t go down looking in a clutch spot this time, Roy Halladay overcame a shaky start and the Philadelphia Phillies beat the St. Louis Cardinals 11-6 Saturday night in the opener of their NL Division Series.
Howard shook off his season-ending strikeout last October in the championship series to hit a go-ahead, three-run homer in a five-run sixth inning, sending Citizens Bank Park into a frenzy.
“I left last year in the past,” Howard said.
“You can’t let what happened last year affect this year. It’s a fresh start.”
Halladay retired his last 21 batters, and the NL East champions began their all-or-nothing postseason run with a comeback win.
Halladay allowed three runs and three hits, striking out eight in eight innings.
He didn’t allow a runner after Skip Schumaker led off the second with a single.
“That’s why he’s the best in the game,” Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols said. “We wanted to keep adding on it, but we just never put that inning together again.”
Game 2 is tonight, with Cliff Lee pitching for Philadelphia against Chris Carpenter, who is starting on three days’ rest.
Raul Ibanez hit a two-run shot off Kyle Lohse to cap the Phillies’ burst in the sixth, and Shane Victorino had three hits and two RBI.
Last year, in his first career playoff start, Halladay threw the second no-hitter in postseason history in Philadelphia’s 4-0 victory over Cincinnati.
His bid for an encore in the first round didn’t last one batter: Lance Berkman hit the first three-run homer off Halladay in three years to put the wild-card Cardinals up 3-0 in the first.
But the offense bailed out Doc.
“I couldn’t think of a worse start and putting your team in a hole like that,” Halladay said.