Ryne Sandberg held a meeting on the mound before Jonathan Papelbon recorded the final out of the Phillies' 5-4 win. (USA Today Images)
WASHINGTON -- Ryne Sandberg trampled a path between the third-base dugout and the pitcher’s mound as he worked his bullpen like a Tony La Russa impersonator on Saturday night.
The Phillies manager asked his young relievers to get nine outs against one of the hottest teams in baseball and they responded in a taut 5-4 win over the Washington Nationals (see Instant Replay).
The Phillies’ victory snapped Washington’s seven-game winning streak and put a kink in the Nationals’ fleeting playoff hopes. The Nats fell to 5 1/2 games back in the NL wild card race with 14 games to play.
“Our relievers came into some tough situations and battled,” starting pitcher Cole Hamels said. “Being able to see the camaraderie of guys high-fiving each other and staying with it was nice. Washington is a very hot team. It was nice to come out with a win.”
Hamels got the win. The Phils have been winners in his last seven starts.
The left-hander took a 5-1 lead to the mound in the seventh inning and allowed three quick singles to open the frame.
Under Charlie Manuel, Hamels, who was at 100 pitches, might have had a chance to clean up his own mess.
But Sandberg went to the bullpen.
“I felt the three hits in a row was a sign,” Sandberg said. “I felt Cole needed a little help there.”
Hamels didn’t argue.
“I like to clean up after myself,” he said. “But I understand the situation. They had some right-handed bats coming up. The three quick hits had given them some momentum. We had fresh arms in the 'pen who had done well. Ryno has to make the decision there and I’m all for it.”
Three runs -- all charged to Hamels, one unearned -- scored in the inning as Washington made it a one-run game, but the Phils did not give up the lead. B.J. Rosenberg got the biggest out when he struck out Wilson Ramos looking at a breaking ball with the potential tying run at third base to end the inning.
Washington threatened again in the eighth, but Jake Diekman retired Denard Span with the potential tying run on second to end the inning.
The ninth inning was also a meat-grinder. Jonathan Papelbon allowed a leadoff double before retiring Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond on fly balls. With two outs and left-handed hitting Bryce Harper coming to the plate, Sandberg convened a meeting at the mound.
With first base open, Sandberg wanted Papelbon to intentionally walk Harper, the potential winning run, and pitch to the right-handed-hitting Ramos.
At the mound, Sandberg ran the idea by Papelbon and catcher Carlos Ruiz.
“We wanted to be on the same page to make sure we were comfortable facing Ramos in that situation,” Ruiz said. “Everyone said yes.”
It was a risky piece of strategy because a gapper would have scored the speedy Harper from first, giving the Nats a walk-off win.
“Harper seems to make things happen, so we went for the better matchup,” Sandberg said.
Sandberg’s move paid off -- with a little help from Jimmy Rollins. Ramos hit a bullet one-hopper at Rollins and the Phillies’ shortstop made a clutch play to end the game.
“That was a heck of a play,” Sandberg said. “A heck of a play.”
Rollins’ play ended a stretch of several tense innings. It was the type of tight environment that the Phillies’ young players, particularly the relievers, can ultimately benefit from.
“It gives them a lot of experience and a good mind-set going into the offseason,” Hamels said. “Experience matters and this is a good spot to get it so when a situation arises down the road you’ve been there, done that.”
Said Sandberg: “From the seventh inning on there were a lot of high-pressure situations for everyone on the field, the defense, the pitchers. You could feel it. It’s good to see guys perform and rise to the occasion.”
In addition to his important game-ending play, Rollins also figured into what turned out to be the decisive run. He doubled to lead off the seventh and scored the Phillies’ fifth run on a single by Chase Utley.
Ruiz paced the offense. His three-run double off Gio Gonzalez capped a four-run fifth inning and gave the Phils a 4-1 lead. John Mayberry Jr. started the rally with a solo homer.
Ruiz had a pair of doubles in the game. In his last 22 games, he is hitting .395 (32 for 81) with 10 doubles, three homers and 20 RBIs.