PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The Nationals have been fighting for respectability since the organization's 2005 move to Washington, and the club may have taken a step forward with a four-game sweep of the NL East-champion Philadelphia Phillies.
Brad Peacock, making just his second major league start, pitched 5 2-3 scoreless innings and Michael Morse hit a three-run homer to lead the Nationals to a 6-1 victory over Philadelphia on Thursday night, handing the Phillies their sixth straight loss.
Roger Bernadina drove in two runs for the Nationals (76-79), who have won five straight overall and eight in a row on the road. Washington needs to win five of its last six for the organization's first season over .500 since 2003.
``You want to compete against the teams in your division and we took a step in that direction,' Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.
Washington got another fine outing from Peacock (2-0), who had his second straight impressive outing in as many major league starts, allowing only Ruiz's infield single in the second. The 23-year-old right-hander, who went 15-3 with a 2.39 ERA between Double- and Triple-A this season, hasn't allowed a run in his two big league starts over 10 2-3 innings. Peacock, who was drafted in the 41st round in 2006, walked two and struck out two while recording just two ground-ball outs.
``Peacock was outstanding,' Johnson said. ``He handled the pressure and made quality pitches all night.'
Said Peacock, ``I put the ball in play and had good defense behind me. I didn't expect this to happen this year. I had a good year and this tops it off.'
Performances from young players like Peacock give Johnson hope.
``These young guys are trying to make a statement that they want to stay in the big leagues and the other guys should be paying attention,' Johnson said.
The Nationals took a 2-0 lead in the third on RBI hits by Ian Desmond and Bernadina. Desmond's double that scored Rick Ankiel should have been the third out, but Chase Utley misjudged the ball in shallow right and couldn't make the over-the-shoulder catch.
Right fielder John Bowker was charging the ball, but held up to avoid a collision with Utley. Desmond scored on Bernadina's grounder that just got past the outstretched glove of first baseman Ross Gload.
The Phillies threatened in the sixth when Peacock and reliever Tom Gorzelanny walked the bases loaded with two outs, but Raul Ibanez flew out to center to end the frame. It was one of the few times the Phillies fans were able to use the rally towels given out on Fan Appreciation Night.
``That was the biggest crowd I've ever seen,' Peacock said. ``I got a little nervous in the sixth when they started waving the towels.'
Washington added four runs in the eighth, all with two outs. Bernadina's two-out double off the wall in right-center scored Desmond, who barely had beat out an infield single. Phillies starter Roy Oswalt walked Ryan Zimmerman to put runners on first and second, prompting a visit from Manuel. Morse followed by launching Oswalt's 3-2 pitch into the Phillies bullpen in center to give Washington a 6-0 lead.
``He was beating me with fastballs all night,' Morse said. ``I shortened up a little and hit it well.'
Philadelphia scored its lone run with two outs in the ninth on Carlos Ruiz's single off Todd Coffey.
Johnson was booed for bringing Coffey into the game with a six-run lead and a pair of outs.
``It's been a while since I've been booed like that, it was fun,' he said. ``They thought I was over-managing but you can never take anything for granted in this game.'
Just ask the Phillies.
On Saturday they clinched their fifth straight NL East title and, needing four more victories, looked a lock to set the club record for wins in a season. But the Phillies have gone into an offensive funk and haven't won since.
Ruiz had three hits and an RBI for the Phillies (98-58), who have lost six in a row for the first time since June 2009. It was the first time the Phillies have been swept in a series of more than two games since last August.
``I'm concerned some but I'm not in a knee-jerk reaction,' Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
Philadelphia is putting an emphasis on those two series.
``We have six games left and that's definitely enough time but it's time for us to get ready for the playoffs,' Manuel said. ``We're sitting in a real good position but we definitely need to pick it up some.'
Philadelphia played all but three regulars, resting first baseman Ryan Howard, right fielder Hunter Pence and third baseman Placido Polanco, and continued to have trouble offensively. The Phillies managed just four hits off Peacock and five relievers.
Manuel said Howard, who had an anti-inflammatory injection in his sore left ankle on Monday, likely will play Friday against the Mets, rest Saturday and then play the final four games. The manager expects to have Pence, nursing a left knee strain, back in the lineup Saturday.
``We have to find a way to gather our focus,' said Shane Victorino, who went 0-for-15 in the series. ``The way we're playing is what people are looking at, the way we're losing, the offense not clicking. Mentally you need to find a way to get rolling in the right direction.'
Oswalt (8-10) allowed six runs on seven hits in 7 2-3 innings. The right-hander, who has been battling to regain his velocity since returning from a 37-game absence due to back inflammation in August, reached 94 mph on the radar gun and looked effective for much of the game.
He said Thursday's outing was the best he's felt all season, but he certainly wasn't feeling good about the team's recent play.
``We still have got to play nine innings and right now we're not playing too well,' he said.
The pitcher expects an increased focus over the final six games.
``Hopefully we won't take them too lightly,' Oswalt said. ``The hottest team going (into the playoffs) usually wins it. Hopefully we'll start playing better.'
Notes: Washington's Danny Espinosa went 0-for-4 and had his 10-game hitting streak snapped. Philadelphia's crowd of 45,064 was the club's 204th consecutive regular-season sellout, and the team finished the year with 3,680,718 fans. The Phillies open a three-game series against the Mets in New York at 7:05 Friday night with Philadelphia left-hander Cole Hamels (14-9, 2.80) is scheduled to face Mets righty R.A. Dickey (8-13, 3.35). Washington returns home for a three-game series against the Braves with right-hander Stephen Strasburg (0-0, 1.29) scheduled to meet Atlanta right-hander Tim Hudson (15-10, 3.19).
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved