CLEARWATER — The last pitch J.P. Howell threw last season led to the double that turned Game 5 of the World Series in favor of the Philadelphia Phillies, and the man who drove that pitch off the wall in Citizens Bank Park now sits a few lockers away from Howell in the Tampa Bay Rays spring training clubhouse.
And that just kills Howell.
“Every time he looked at me, I knew what he was thinking,” Howell said.
So, a few days ago, Howell took a deep breath and finally brought up that World Series at-bat with Burrell.
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“What were you thinking?” Howell asked.
“I was thinking it was a home run,” Burrell said.
“OK, I mean the pitch,” Howell said.
Burrell knew it was coming because that seemed to be all Howell would throw during the two times they faced each other during the series.
“I had to get it off my chest,” Howell said.
Still, Burrell’s presence in the Rays clubhouse this season will be a reminder of how last season ended.
“It was terrible,” Howell said, “and the guy who made it terrible for me is now on our side, so I can’t get back at him.”
If the Rays need any more reminders, they have a spring training schedule that has four games with the Phillies, including the final two in Philadelphia on April 3-4.
“They keep putting us on the same field,” Burrell said Saturday after he left the first meeting between the two teams at Bright House Field in Clearwater.
The Phillies won 12-5 in a game played in front of 10,270 — the largest crowd ever at the ballpark. Burrell was warmly greeted by Phillies fans, who remembered his nine years in Philadelphia, and the Rays fans, who anticipate the same production from their new designated hitter during the next two seasons in Tampa Bay.
“The fans were pretty amazing, the response. It was a fun day,” Burrell said. “I was thrilled to be on the field.”
Burrell requested to make the trip from Port Charlotte to Clearwater, the Rays’ only trip to Clearwater this spring. He saw his old teammates and finalized plans to be in Philadelphia on the afternoon of April 8 when the Phillies receive their World Series rings. The Rays play in Boston that night, so Burrell will be able to fly in to Philadelphia, pick up his ring and fly back to Boston.
“I’m looking forward to that, getting back and seeing the fans and being a part of it one more time,” Burrell said.
The Rays, of course, will receive rings for winning the American League championship and will hang an AL pennant at Tropicana Field, a permanent reminder of how far they came last season and how short they fell in the World Series.
Rays manager Joe Maddon noticed the sign in right field Saturday that declared the Phillies “2008 World Champions.”
“It’s better than the AL East champs when you come right down to it,” Maddon said. “Of course I’d like to see that flying down at our place. We’ll get one. We’ll get our own.”
Maddon is hoping Burrell will play a big part in the Rays taking the final step.
For Burrell, winning the World Series in his last game in Philly made up for all the booing he received during his years with the team.
“That made everything for me,” he said.
He was curious as to what kind of response he would receive Saturday.
“Well, you got to be prepared for everything,” he said. “The response I got was pretty special, obviously something I won’t forget.”
The reception he’ll receive in Philadelphia should be similar to the one he received Saturday.
After all, he did get the double that led to the go-ahead run in the Phillies’ championship-clinching 4-3 win.
Burrell had been 0-for-13 in the series prior to that seventh-inning at-bat. Earlier that night, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins told Burrell that the team needed Pat Burrell to show up.
“It was about time for me to do something,” Burrell said.
He did, smoking the third pitch of the at-bat off the wall. Howell was replaced by Chad Bradford, and Burrell was lifted for pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett, who eventually scored on a single by Pedro Feliz.
Burrell, knowing he was a free agent after the season, had an idea he was playing his last game with the team that night.
“I was running off the field (after the double), and I kind of thought, man, you never know, so you might as well enjoy this,” he said. “(Saturday) is kind of full circle.”
That was the second time Burrell faced Howell during the World Series. Howell started their first meeting with a fastball.
“Just to show him one,” Howell said.
He then threw Burrell nothing but curve balls.
“The (scouting) report said Burrell didn’t hit many curve balls that year,” Howell said. “He said that was because they didn’t throw him many.”
Howell had his answer, not that it made dealing with being the losing pitcher in the deciding game of the World Series any easier.
“But I learned something,” Howell said. “Got to mix it up.”