By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 21, 2007
All week, as they were thrust into the midst of a pennant race when all they are trying to do is finish fourth, the Washington Nationals have gathered in the home dugout at RFK Stadium and reminded each other that these games are worth playing, if only to muck up the chances of others.
Last night, though, they found a contender unwilling to collapse, one which stared at a big deficit and remained undaunted. The Philadelphia Phillies arrived for RFK's final weekend of baseball, found themselves down by four runs early -- then stormed back against the Nationals, using a pinch-hit, three-run homer from Jayson Werth, a key double-play ball from left-handed reliever J.C. Romero and Jimmy Rollins's tiebreaking, two-out double in the eighth to take a 7-6 victory.
Take a look at the bullpens to figure this one out. Philadelphia's six relievers allowed two hits and no runs over seven innings. Washington's four allowed four hits, three walks and five runs in three frames.
"Their bullpen basically won the battle," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said. "We scored six runs in the first two innings, and they came in and just shut us down for seven. Our guys just couldn't get it done."
The result: The Nationals, who played the Phillies back into the National League East race by taking two of three from the first-place New York Mets, helped them take another step forward. The Mets lost to the last-place Florida Marlins in 10 innings, and the lead -- which was seven games on Sept. 12 -- is down to 1 1/2 .
The ugly reality of last night -- when a logo commemorating RFK's history with baseball was spray painted near the first base line, when a "Thank You Nats Fans!" banner adorned the wall in right-center -- came after an encouraging start.
After the Nationals pummeled starter Kyle Lohse -- he allowed six hits, including four doubles, for six runs in two innings -- they apparently decided that was enough. A collection of Phillies relievers that was either undistinguished, underachieving -- or both -- allowed Philadelphia to come back.
J.D. Durbin toted his 6.25 ERA to the mound in relief of Lohse, and retired all six men he faced. Kane Davis (ERA: 5.19) allowed a one-out double to Ryan Church in the fifth, an inning in which he eventually loaded the bases. But his final line included just that hit over two innings with three strikeouts.
So on it went. The only salvation for the Nationals was that right-hander Jason Bergmann settled down after allowing Ryan Howard's towering two-run, two-out homer in the first. Bergmann wasn't at his most efficient -- needing 104 pitches to get through six innings -- but he struck out seven with a lively fastball and left with a 6-2 lead.
"That was probably one of the best fastballs I've had so far," Bergmann said. "I felt great tonight."
The problem: He couldn't go more than those six. So on came reliever Luis Ayala in the seventh, and here's where it got ugly. Ayala: Single and walk -- to the eighth-place hitter, Carlos Ruiz -- then the showers. The Phillies sent up left-handed pinch hitter Chris Coste. Acta countered with lefty Arnie Mu¿oz. Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel turned to the right-handed hitting Jayson Werth. Acta stuck with Mu¿oz because switch-hitters Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino followed ahead of the left-handed Utley and Howard.
"It was just the way we drew it," Acta said. "It just didn't work."
Mu¿oz's outing was, in a word, rocky. His worst pitch was a 3-1 offering in the center of the plate to Werth, which was deposited into Section 447 above left field, a three-run homer that pulled the Phillies within 6-5.
Mu¿oz's misery didn't end there. He allowed the tying run when Rollins doubled, moved to second on a sacrifice and scored when Utley bounced a ball to second. Ronnie Belliard gobbled it up and tried to nail Rollins at home, throwing off his back foot. But Rollins scored, and Mu¿oz had to be relieved by rookie right-hander Jonathan Albaladejo to get out of the inning.
"We came back and we got them," Manuel said. "The secret was the bullpen kept holding them."
With one out in the eighth, Albaladejo walked Ruiz -- the second straight inning he walked in a key spot. With the Phillies' lineup, that's a scary tactic. Even after the second out, here came Rollins, the Phillies' MVP candidate.
"That's why it's so important when you play them that you get the eighth hitter," Acta said.
Tony Batista had replaced Robert Fick at first, and Rollins pulled a grounder down the line. Batista couldn't snare it, and Ruiz was off. Rollins ended up on second, Ruiz scored, and the Phillies celebrated.