Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Phils Keep Pace With Mets Against Nats

As much as things haven't been going the Phillies way lately, at least they're not the Nationals. With both teams struggling coming into the game, the Phillies fresh off a 2-5 road trip and the Nationals riding an eleven-game losing streak, one could argue this game would tell us what happens when a stoppable force meets a movable object. The answer? Not surprisingly, one gets nudged closer to the cellar. Tonight, the Nationals were their usual hapless selves and the Phillies were able to capitalize, edging Washington in a 5-4 win.

The Nationals jumped out to an early lead, off a solo shot from Willie Harris, but the Phillies would respond in the second as Greg Dobbs scored Ryan Howard on a fly ball to left center. This run was in no way guaranteed, as the ball was not hit especially deep. But Harris had to throw off his back foot and Howard made a head-first slide into home, just to be sure. Harris' throw was off the mark anyway, and the Phillies had tied the game.

Joe Blanton, coming off some impressive starts of late, ran into some trouble. He allowed three straight singles in the fourth inning, as the Nationals took a 2-1 lead. Then, in the fifth, Ryan Zimmerman hit an RBI triple and Ronnie Belliard slapped a single up the middle to score Zimmerman, putting Washington on top 4-1.

It was beginning to look like one of those games where the highly-talented Phillies offense inexplicably struggled against a mediocre pitcher (in this case, Jason Bergman). But the offense bounced back, helped in part by the sloppy Nationals defense. Shane Victorino led off the fifth inning with a triple would then score as Greg Dobbs reached on an error by Harris. Dobbs then stole second, then was advanced to third by Chris Coste's single. Geoff Jenkins came in to pinch hit, where he has fared poorly all season, but came through...more or less...with a sacrifice fly. That brought the Phillies within one run and brought up Jimmy Rollins with the tying run on base. Unfortunately, Rollins was unable to produce for the riled up Phillies fans, grounding into an inning-ending double play.

The Phillies offense struck again in the seventh. Pat Burrell singled, but would be out on a fielder's choice hit by Victorino. Victorino then advanced to third on a Dobbs single, spelling the end of the night for Bergman. Coste delivered once more, with a sacrifice fly to right that scored Victorino and tied the game.

That would be all for the seventh, and it appeared as if the game might be headed for extra innings. This was concerning, especially because "inning-eater" Joe Blanton had been pulled after five innings (though to be fair, he had only thrown 91 pitches and was pulled for a pinch hitter). Chad Durbin pitched two scoreless innings after coming in for Blanton and Ryan Madson pitched a perfect top of the eighth inning, in what seems to be his new role in the bullpen.

Rollins led off the bottom of the eighth, smashing a fly ball to deep right field, only to have it knocked down by the wind and into the glove of Austin Kearns. The crowd quieted as Jayson Werth stepped in, as Werth has not antagonized fans of late the way Rollins has. Werth changed that as he gave the fans something to cheer about, hitting a home run to left center and putting the Phillies ahead 5-4.

With a lead (any size lead) going into the ninth inning, the Phillies, their fans, and probably the Nationals, all knew that the game was, in effect, over. Brad Lidge entered and did not disappoint, striking out two of the three hitters he faced and recording his 31st save.

It didn't come easy, but the Phillies got an important win. They still remain 1.5 games behind the Mets, but should have a decent chance to close the gap, as they'll look to extend the Nationals' losing streak to thirteen. Brett Myers and Jamie Moyer will pitch the remaining games. Myers got on track in his last start against Washington, pitching seven innings and allowing no earned runs. Since then, he has pitched three straight quality starts.

After the Nationals, the Phillies take on the Dodgers, hoping to get some revenge after the Dodgers completed a four-game sweep of the Phillies in LA. Manny Ramirez has made the Dodgers a more formidable team and the recent acquisition of Greg Maddux (who Jamie Moyer recently defeated in a game against the Padres) will only help them. That, and the race with the Mets, makes these next two games against the Nationals, which are as close to cupcakes as the Phillies will get, essential.

We learned last season that the Phillies are capable of huge September comebacks, but it would be best for them not to tempt fate and get a head start on the comeback in late August.

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