Correction to This Article
A Sept. 27 Sports article referred to Washington Nationals relief pitcher Billy Traber as Jim Traber.

Nationals Force Phillies to Wait A Little Bit Longer

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Several hundred Philadelphia Phillies followers rolled into RFK Stadium last night, tantalized by the thought of their ballclub's first playoff appearance in 13 years. They chanted "MVP!" each time home run leader Ryan Howard approached the batter's box, they awaited scoring updates on the Los Angeles Dodgers' game in Denver and, when the Phillies scored two quick runs, they could not help but believe this three-day stopover would not disrupt their postseason march.

Ryan Zimmerman and a quintet of Washington Nationals pitchers ruined their evening, and with the Dodgers winning, dented their chances.

The third baseman enhanced his rookie of the year credentials with three hits and three RBI, reaching another milestone along the way, and the Nationals escaped a potential Philadelphia home run that was called foul and a ninth-inning scare with Howard to earn a 4-3 victory over the Phillies before 18,960, the smallest home turnout since July 5.

Having already scored a run against closer Chad Cordero in the ninth, Philadelphia sent Howard to the plate with two outs and a runner on first.

Manager Frank Robinson went to the mound for a chat with Cordero. His message: "You created the situation, get yourself out of it."

Cordero did just that, using a fastball up and in to retire the MVP candidate on a lazy fly ball to Alfonso Soriano in left field.

"Sometimes when [Robinson] does come out, he's not real happy. Luckily this time, that wasn't one of them," said Cordero, who added that intentionally walking Howard was not a consideration. "I just tried to go right at him."

Howard, hitting .416 with 15 homers in his last 32 games, did have two singles against starter Ramon Ortiz, the first one driving in Philadelphia's first run.

"We try to make pitches on him, we try to be careful with him, but you can't be afraid to try to pitch hitters to a weakness that you think they have for a chance to get them out at this level," Robinson said. "We were lucky tonight."

The Phillies did not waste any time getting to Ortiz, scoring twice in the first inning, but repeatedly failed in their efforts to extend the early advantage and left eight runners on base through five innings. Ortiz, in his finest effort since his near no-hitter early this month, allowed two runs and struck out six in six innings.

"It didn't look like he was going to be around long tonight, did it?" Robinson said. "He really was not in a good groove early in the ballgame . . . but he settled in, settled down and started making his pitches. He gave us a chance to come back."

In the first inning, there were four consecutive singles, with Howard knocking one run in with a liner to center and former Baltimore Oriole Jeff Conine bringing home another with a hit to left.

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