Call him Mr. September

Here’s a few words I didn’t think I’d be using again this summer: First-place Phillies.

And here’s a big reason why: Ryan Howard.

Call him Mr. September.

Howard came up big again last night as the Phils rallied to beat the Braves, 8-7.

Howard is on fire. Know how you can tell? He’s driving the ball to left field again. Last night he strode to the plate in the seventh inning and promptly blasted one to the wall in left. It probably should have been caught by Braves’ outfielder Omar Infante. Instead it fell for a triple and helped the Phils erase a 7-4 deficit.

An inning later Howard didn’t need any help, rocketing a blast into the left-field seats to push the Phils ahead, 8-7.

Brad Lidge added some drama in the ninth, loading the bases before striking out Gregor Blanco to seal the deal. That makes him a perfect 37 for 37 in save opportunities this year. A lot of years that would engender MVP talk.

But Lidge is quickly being eclipsed by Howard’s September to remember.

It was home run No. 45 for Howard. His 3 RBI gives him 136 for the season.

How’s this for a sizzling September? Howard is hitting .413, going 26-for-63 in his last 16 games. Along the way he has scorched opposing pitchers for nine home runs and 24 RBIs.

No one is complaining about that $10 million deal awarded to Howard in arbitration back in Clearwater last spring.

Two years ago Howard won both the rookie of the year and MVP Awards. Last year it went to teammate Jimmy Rollins. A lot of people thought it could be a three-peat, with Chase Utley keeping the MVP hardware in the Phillies locker room.

They got it half right. It just might remain the property of the Phils, but if so it will be Howard accepting the prize.

Speaking of eyes on the prize, the win catapulted the Phils back into first place. The slumping Mets, who no doubt are tired of hearing of another September swoon, lost again to fall a half-game behind. Both the Astros and Brewers also lost.

Put the football season back on hold.

Baseball is on the front burner again. And that’s largely because of a red-hot Ryan Howard.