Howard struck out in his first four at-bats before driving in the go-ahead run in the 10th inning Saturday night, helping Philadelphia beat the Washington Nationals 4-1 in 10 innings and keep pace in the NL East.
"That's what baseball is all about," Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said. "You go from sitting there striking out, and all of a sudden with one swing, you become a hero."
Howard has 194 strikeouts this season, and with one more will tie Cincinnati's Adam Dunn for the major league record set in 2004.
"I don't know why you're bringing that up," Howard said. "I haven't thought about it at all. It's part of the game."
Howard has never struck out five times in a game, but found himself in a 1-2 hole and fouling off pitches before hitting a fastball from Chris Schroder (2-3) to center that scored Chase Utley and gave the Phillies a 2-1 lead.
"With a couple of pitches, I just couldn't pull the trigger," Howard said. "I went up there in my last at-bat, trying to be aggressive."
Schroder said he didn't get confident because Howard had yet to put the ball in play.
"He is one of the best hitters in the game. The longer they go 'ohfer,' the more they are due," Schroder said.
Utley homered for the Phillies, who won for the ninth time in 10 games and remained 1½ games back of the New York Mets in the division. Philadelphia trails San Diego by a half-game in the wild-card race, after the Padres lost 6-2 to the Colorado Rockies.
Howard's big hit followed a single by Utley and a walk by Pat Burrell. Aaron Rowand, who had four hits, followed Howard by hitting into a fielder's choice, with third baseman Ryan Zimmerman going home to get pinch-runner Michael Bourn. Shane Victorino followed with a grounder to Robert Fick at first, but reliever Jesus Colome didn't cover and the bases were loaded.
Before the game, Manuel said he'd never used a reliever in five consecutive games. But he didn't promise he wouldn't.
J.C. Romero retired two batters in relief of starter Kyle Kendrick, and Tom Gordon set down Washington in order in the eighth. Brett Myers (5-7), the fifth Philadelphia pitcher, picked up the win by working a perfect ninth.
All three had pitched the past four games.
"They said they wanted the ball. They said they wanted to pitch," Manuel said. "They said they were ready. If they said they were ready, I was going to use them."
Philadelphia's bullpen allowed just two hits in four innings and has given up only two earned runs in the past 30 2/3 innings.
"I got three outs. That's all that matters," Myers said. "I don't have time to feel tired. When that phone rings, I'm ready to go."
Clay Condrey worked a scoreless 10th for his second save.
"I'm getting tired of hearing people say our bullpen isn't good," Myers said.
With one out in the first, Utley hit a home run to right field off Washington starter Tim Redding. It was Utley's 21st home run and extended his hitting streak to 17 games.
Washington tied the score in the sixth when Zimmerman singled off Kendrick. Ryan Church singled one out later. Ronnie Belliard then grounded to third and after Abraham Nunez threw to second to force Church, Utley's relay throw to first was wild and Zimmerman scampered home.
- Nationals 1B Dmitri Young hasn't played since getting hit by a hard-one hopper by Atlanta's Mark Teixeira on Sept. 15, and said he may not play again this season.
- Washington OF Wily Mo Pena missed the game with a contusion in his right hand. He was hit with a pitch from Philadelphia's Adam Eaton during Friday's game.
- Utley's hitting streak is the longest by any Phillies player this season.
- The Nationals are 121-121 in their three years at RFK Stadium. The 36-year-old ballpark's final game is on Sunday.