Ryan Howard is usually the guy carrying the Phillies down the stretch this time of year.

The Phillies have won five straight NL East titles and Howard has been a big part of that, but also being a finisher, the guy who has had enough left in his tank to help the Phils clinch.

Howard has had more success in September than in any other month in his career.

But Howard, 10 months removed from left Achilles' surgery, has hardly been himself this September. He entered Thursday with a .292 slugging percentage in 17 games this month, which ranks 252nd of the 312 players with at least 25 plate appearances this month.

You don't have to point out those numbers to Howard, who briefly emerged from his September slumber to lead the Phillies to a 3-2 win on Wednesday. Howard hit a two-run home run with two outs in the ninth inning.

Howard is well aware that his first two months since returning from a lengthy rehab haven't been anywhere near what he had hoped.

The normally genial Howard twice declined to talk to reporters this week. The frustration was apparent in the way he carried himself through the clubhouse.

Following his game-winning home run on Wednesday, Howard talked about the mental toll that his rehab has taken on him.

"I know I'm better than what shows," Howard said. "It's been a learning process for me. I'm just trying to go out and grind it out the best that I can, just trying to come up in any situation that I can to try to help the team win. And that's it."

"I'm a competitor. I know I'm better than what shows, and it gets frustrating at times and sometimes you try to do more than what you're capable of doing. I'll be the first to tell you, yeah, I've probably gone out there and done that a few times. I tried to tone it back a little bit today. I knew it really didn't show early in the game, but coming up in that situation, my goal was to try to get Chooch up to the plate.

"I know how the whole month of September goes, and obviously it's been the opposite of that. But right now we're in a pennant chase and my focus has just been on trying to continually go out there, try to get into the swing of things and just try to help the team win the best I can."

For one day on one swing, Howard was able to do that. Thirteen games remain in the most trying season of his career.