WASHINGTON – Well, this certainly was an interesting game. It saw Charlie Manuel go to his least dependable reliever for one of the biggest outs of the game. It saw the go-ahead run score from first base on a single. Yes, a single. In the end, it saw the Phillies eke out a 5-3 win over the Washington Nationals on Saturday night and move to within a game of the elusive .500 mark (see Instant Replay).
“We’ve had a hard time getting there,” said Manuel, whose club hasn’t been .500 since April 14. “Hopefully [Sunday] we can get there. We’re going to get there and go by that eventually.”
The Phils are in position to reach .500 because rookie starter Jonathan Pettibone (six innings, three runs) once again kept his club in the game, because Chad Durbin, who entered the game with an 8.10 ERA, got a huge out in the seventh and because Jeremy Horst followed with two big ones in the eighth.
That was the pitching side of the equation.
Offensively, the Phils won this game because they scored five two-out runs. Surging Domonic Brown and Erik Kratz teamed for back-to-back homers with two outs in the second. In the fifth, Pettibone and Jimmy Rollins had back-to-back two-out doubles. And then there was that decisive – and entertaining – two-run rally in the top of the eighth against Nats’ reliever Drew Storen. The rally broke a 3-3 tie.
Michael Young, mired in an 0-for-12 skid, started it off by drawing a one-out walk. Ryan Howard then struck out for the fourth time in the game for the second out. Delmon Young then came up and swatted a hard hopper by the first-base bag and into the rightfield corner.
With two outs and the game tied, Michael Young’s instincts took over.
“There wasn’t a doubt in my mind the second he hit that ball that I was going to try to score there,” Michael Young said. “Obviously, I’m the go-ahead run there.”
Third-base coach Ryne Sandberg waved Michael Young and he scored when the throw was up the line a little.
“That was a gutsy, aggressive move,” Manuel said of Sandberg’s waving Young.
What made the play almost comical was that Delmon Young stopped at first base. Who hits a ball in the right-field corner and doesn’t get a double? Who doesn’t at least end up on second on the throw?
Michael Young wasn’t even aware that his teammate never made it to second.
“That’s pretty impressive, actually,” he said after the game.
Delmon Young said he was told to hold up by first base coach Juan Samuel because Samuel was under the impressive that the Phils would have runners on the corners. But there was no stopping Sandberg’s waving arm or Michael Young’s feet.
Delmon Young, of course, is not the fleetest of foot. He actually called for a pinch-runner while he was on first. As he explained afterward, “They usually pinch-run for me.” Fan favorite Michael Martinez did come out to pinch-run and he scored an insurance run from first on Brown’s double to right-center.
Brown leads the team with nine homers and 27 RBIs.
Manuel doesn’t want to talk about that.
“He’s swinging good,” the manager said. “Leave him alone and let him hit. He hit the ball hard tonight. That’s real good hitting. I don’t want to get into the hype. I just want to let him play and see how good he can be.”
The Phillies are just a game behind second-place Washington in the NL East. Both teams trail Atlanta, which has won eight in a row.
“This is a big series considering the time of the year, yeah,” Michael Young said of the Phils’ trip to Washington. “I don’t think anyone thinks that who wins this series is going to win the division, but we’re playing a good club in their park. It’s a big May series for sure.”
The Phils will look to win the series Sunday afternoon behind Cole Hamels. He will face Nationals’ power arm Stephen Strasburg in a marquee matchup.
“This win made it more interesting on Strasburg tomorrow,” Manuel said. “It might give us a little more jump on getting him.
“We got Hamels going. He’s due to win a game, man. That’s a bright spot. Hamels is going to be letting it go tomorrow.”
Hamels, of course, is 1-7 and the Phils are 1-9 in his starts. The lefty has received criminally poor run support. He allowed just two runs, walked none and struck out 10 in his last start, but came away with a loss that left him visibly angry. Though he wouldn’t explain his anger, it probably had something to do with the lack of run support.
“We’re not worried about Cole,” Michael Young said. “His stuff has been great. He’s just running into some bad luck as far as us being able to push across runs for him. We’d love to give him as much help as we can, but sometimes weird things happen in this game. If he keeps throwing up zeroes, eventually his luck will change. But for his sake and for us as teammates, we’d like for that to happen sooner rather than later."