Nats don't expect rivalry with Phillies to wane

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Nats don't expect rivalry with Phillies to wane

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.”

Howard homers, embraces the moment, looks forward to final salute Sunday

Howard homers, embraces the moment, looks forward to final salute Sunday

BOX SCORE

The New York Mets and a slew of their supportive fans took over Citizens Bank Park on Sunday afternoon. The Mets posted a 5-3 win over the Phillies and streamed out of the dugout like school children at recess to celebrate clinching a National League wild-card playoff spot on the penultimate day of the season (see Instant Replay).

As the Mets players congratulated each other on the diamond, several thousand of their vocal fans cheered in the stands while Phillies fans headed to the exits longing for those days when their team used to have celebrations on the field.

There was a moment in the game, however, when it did feel like the good ol’ days at the ballpark, a moment when Ryan Howard owned the place like he used to and the Phillies fans drowned out the Mets fans with ease.

It came in the fifth inning when the Phillies were down by two runs and Howard came to the plate and turned on a pitch from Bartolo Colon and sent it into the right-field seats for a game-tying two-run home run. Phillies fans had seen Howard hit homers like this before because many of the 382 he has hit in his career have been clutch shots that have come in big moments, and though the Phillies have long been dead in the standings, this was an important game and thus a big moment because the Mets had a lot to play for and no competitor worth his salt would let another team walk on him.

The game didn’t stay tied long as reliever Patrick Schuster allowed a hit and a wild pitch in the top of the sixth before David Hernandez surrendered a two-run homer to James Loney as the Mets went up for good.

But at least Howard gave the Phillies fans in the house something to cheer about for a short while.

“It was cool,” Howard acknowledged after the game. “I was able to hit the home run, tying the game up. I tried to spoil it for them today a little bit, but they got us, and you’ve got to congratulate those guys because they scratched and clawed and did what they needed to do. That’s a good ball club.”

Howard’s home run, of course, was cool for another reason.

It might have been his last as a Phillie.

This is the veteran slugger’s final weekend with the team he helped win the 2008 World Series and a little love-in has developed between him and the fans. They gave him a standing ovation after the homer – his 25th of the season – and he responded with a curtain call.

“It was awesome,” he said. “To be able to hit the home run in the first place and then get the curtain call. To have the fans show that kind of appreciation is a great feeling.”

The Phillies will not pick up Howard’s contract option for 2017. On Sunday afternoon, he will play his final game for the Phillies. First pitch is at 3 p.m. The team will make an on-field presentation to Howard at 2:30.

Howard doesn’t know what the team has planned.

“I’m just going to show up and see what happens,” he said. “You know, I think it’ll be something cool. We’ll see what it is. Whatever it brings, I'll embrace it and take it and enjoy it."
 
Howard had spent the previous few days stiff-arming the attention that has come with his final days as a Phillie.

He put his guard down a little after Saturday’s game.

“I’m just taking the weekend as is,” he said. “I’m just trying to enjoy it, trying to embrace everything and take it as is. I’m not trying to look too much into anything. Actually, I’m just trying to go out there and win these ballgames. I mean, I’ve said it before, things will hit you when they hit you.”

The Phillies have not been to the playoffs since 2011, their last of five straight trips to the postseason. If anyone needed a reminder of what it used to look like around here, it was on the field after the game in the form of the Mets’ celebration.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin did not watch the Mets celebrate. He’s waiting to experience a celebration of his own.

“There’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to get back where we need to be and we’re going to be one of those teams, just like the Mets are now,” Mackanin said.

Howard will turn 37 in November. He is the elder statesman on this club and he’s embraced that role in his dealings with younger players.

He used the Mets’ celebration as an opportunity to pass on some advice to the men who are his teammates for one more day.

“You never want to see somebody else celebrate on your home field, but for these young guys it's something where once you’ve seen it, you want to be those guys," Howard said. "When you see the other team out there, you want to be that guy next year. You want to be out there celebrating on your home field or somebody else's field.

“It's tough, but you take that and find a way to use that as motivation.”

Instant Replay: Mets 5, Phillies 3

Instant Replay: Mets 5, Phillies 3

BOX SCORE

Ryan Howard gave the fans a treat with a two-run home run in his penultimate game in a Phillies uniform, but that was the extent of the highlights Saturday afternoon as the Phils suffered a 5-3 loss to the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park.

With the victory, the Mets clinched a spot in the NL playoffs as a wild-card team.

The Phillies clinched their sixth straight loss and eighth in the last nine games.

They are 70-91 heading into the final day of the season.

Starting pitching report
Phil Klein worked four innings for the Phillies and gave up one run.

Mets starter Bartolo Colon went five innings and gave up just two runs. Both runs came on Howard’s homer in the fifth.

Bullpen report
Patrick Schuster and David Hernandez gave up runs in the sixth as the Mets broke a 2-2 tie. Hernandez allowed a two-run homer and took the loss.

The Mets’ bullpen pitched four shutout innings. Jeurys Familia closed it out for his 51st save.

At the plate
Howard’s homer was his 25th of the season, tying him with Maikel Franco for the team lead. It was the 382nd homer of his career, tying him with Jim Rice and Frank Howard for 67th on the all-time list.

Howard has six doubles, 13 homers and 32 RBIs in 47 games since July 3.

Darin Ruf smacked a pinch-hit homer in the seventh inning.

The Mets scored single runs in the fourth and fifth innings. James Loney put them ahead for good with a two-run homer in the top if the sixth. It broke a 2-2 tie. Asdrubal Cabrera drove in an insurance run with a single in the top of the ninth.

Up next
The Phillies close out the season Sunday afternoon against the Mets. Jerad Eickhoff (11-14, 3.72) pitches for the Phillies. Gabriel Ynoa (1-0, 7.90) will start for the Mets in place of Noah Syndergaard, who will be held until the wild-card game.

The game will start at 3:05. The Phillies will honor Howard at 2:30.