Familiarity breeds contempt, as they say. That would seem to be the case for the Phillies and the Washington Nationals, the NL East clubs that have built one of the better rivalries in baseball.
Could the rivalry be on its last legs?
With some suggesting that the Phillies could sell off the core pieces of their team at the trade deadline at the end of July, the rivalry could finally tip the Nationals’ way. In fact, since the beginning of the 2011 season, the Phillies and Nats have split 44 games. This comes after the Phillies went 71-39 against Washington from 2005 to 2010.
So the tide is turning toward Washington…
Not so fast says Nats manager Davey Johnson.
“I don’t think they’re going to sell,” Johnson said.
Johnson might be right. Plus, with the Phillies and Nats scheduled to play 11 more times this season, expect the outcomes to be much like Tuesday night’s 4-2 victory for the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park (see game recap). For the second night in a row, a Phillies lefty cooled off a Nats team that had won four in a row and six of its last eight, averaging 9.2 runs per game in those victories.
Against the Phillies in the first two games of a four-game series, the Nats have scored just four runs. Meanwhile, the Nats’ defense played a big role in helping the Phillies push runs across on Tuesday night. A throwing error by Adam LaRoche in the sixth inning capped off a three-run frame in which the Phillies broke through after tying the game in the fourth.
The play -- a grounder to LaRoche at first hit by Chase Utley with Jimmy Rollins on first and Ben Revere on second and no outs -- appeared to be a rally-killing double play. Instead, the Nats were tipping their caps to Rollins’ baserunning savvy while sliding into second. LaRoche and Ian Desmond say Rollins was wise enough to slide where he thought the throw was going and instead of the shortstop making the turn cleanly, the ball was shielded and ended up rolling into the outfield.
“That’s unbelievable baserunning,” Desmond said. “That’s really good wherewithal [by Rollins]. There are probably things we could have done differently, but at the same time, he did a great job of baserunning. That was something you don’t see from very many other players.
“It was unbelievable instincts. [Rollins] knew that LaRoche stayed back on the ball and he might have seen how I went after the ball and he broke toward me. But all you can do there is tip your cap.”
Maybe what has developed between the Nats and Phillies isn’t the WWE-type rivalry, but something of a mutual admiration society. The Nats have borrowed from the Phillies’ blueprint from when former general managers Ed Wade and Pat Gillick built those great clubs, which just adds to the rivalry.
Sure, former Phillie Jayson Werth said he wants to destroy any plans of another parade down Broad Street and Nats general manager Mike Rizzo had some pointed comments about Cole Hamels after the Phillies lefty “welcomed” much-heralded rookie Bryce Harper to the big leagues with a fastball in his ribs.
But that’s just gamesmanship. No matter what happens at the end of the month with the Phillies’ roster, the rivalry will survive.
“Obviously, a lot of their core guys aren’t old, but they’re getting older,” said Nats All-Star Ryan Zimmerman, who has been with the team since it moved from Montreal in 2005. “When you play that many games and that many postseason games, it’s hard to keep a core group healthy for all of that time. I think that’s just kind of the way baseball is. It’s not easy to stay on top for a long time. Teams keep changing and young players get better, so it makes you appreciate what they did to win the division for four or five years.”