Big Eighth Inning Propels Nats to Win Over Phillies 9-7

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, September 04, 2008 | , , , , | 0 comments »

Washington -- Cristian Guzman led a 13-hit attack, Ryan Zimmerman homered for the third time in his last eight games, and the Washington Nationals used a four-run eighth inning to bury their division-rival Philadelphia Phillies 9-7 before 23,122 at Nationals Park.

Guzman set a franchise record with his eighth consecutive multi-hit game, going 3-for-5 on the evening, with a double, two runs scored and three RBIs. His average is up to .311, and he is 21-for-39 (.538) during his multi-hit streak. He was joined on the hit parade by Zimmerman (2-for-4, home run), CF Lastings Milledge, and 1B Kory Casto, all with multi-hit performances against Phillies starter Joe Blanton and five relievers. Elijah Dukes and Roger Bernadina added stolen bases -- Bernadina's first career SB.

The game was tied at five heading to the bottom of the eighth. Phils reliever Chad Durbin, who had entered the game in the seventh, took the hill for Philadelphia but probably wished he hadn't. Casto met him with a single to right field to start the inning off. Pete Orr pinch-ran for Casto, and took second on a one-out wild pitch to Bernadina. The rookie outfielder then lashed the next pitch to left, pushing Orr up 90 feet to third base. Manager Manny Acta called for Ronnie Belliard to pinch-hit for pitcher Saul Rivera (W, 5-5, 3.52), and Belliard delivered a humpback liner over the shortstop's head to score Orr with the lead run.

But the Nats weren't done yet. Bernadina measured Durbin's delivery on several pitches from second base, and with the count 2-2 he took off for third and slid in safely ahead of the tag of third baseman Pedro Feliz. Durbin then finished the walk to 2B Emilio Bonifacio and the bases were loaded for hot-hitting all-star Cristian Guzman. "Guz" took two balls and on the third pitch lined a double to the gap in center field, clearing the bases and giving the Nats a 9-5 lead.

Guzman gave the dugout his customary finger-wagging salute as he stood on second, watching Phillies Manager Charlie Manual lifting Durbin (L, 5-4) from the game, probably one batter too late.

"I was just trying to put the ball in play," Guzman said. "I saw the ball go into the gap, so 'Thank you.' "

The ninth inning provided some fireworks though, as Closer Joel Hanrahan was called on to shut the door. He managed to do the job, but not without some excitement. RF Matt Stairs and 2B Chase Utley both pushed in runs against Hanrahan, pitching in a non-save situation. But he got OF Jayson Werth to strike out swinging to end the game, and as he exchanged fist-bumps with catcher Wil Nieves, Hanrahan let out a big sigh as if to say, "Whew, got through that one!".

Zimmerman, Casto, Milledge and Dukes all provided RBI hits earlier to get the Nats started, and Zimmerman's home run in the seventh, to tie the game, was a no-doubt-about-it shot to straight-away center.

The Phillies rode the power swings of 1B Ryan Howard and Utley to score their early runs. In the first inning, Nats starter Odalis Perez plunked Utley with the first pitch the all-star second baseman saw -- retribution from Tuesday night's home plate collision with Nats catcher Jesus Flores, who left the game with a sprained ankle and will miss 2-4 weeks. Howard followed with a "big fly" to right center to take the early lead. Utley tripled in the third inning to drive in a run, and Howard added his second two-run homer -- to almost the exact spot of the first -- in the sixth inning.

Perez finished the evening pitching five innings, allowing three earned runs on four hits and three walks, striking out five. No pitch was bigger than standing up for his fallen teammate in the first inning however.

Washington starts a nine-game road trip Thursday night in Atlanta against the Braves. Shairon Martis makes his Major League debut against Jo-Jo Reyes (3-10, 5.49) for the Braves. Game time is 7:10 pm from Atlanta's Turner Field.

NATS NOTES: With the win, Washington's record stands at 54-86, 25 games behind division-leading New York. The Phillies drop to 76-64, trailing the Mets by three game as they head into a three-game series in New York this weekend.

Nationals RHP Collin Balester has a mild left gluteal strain, which forced Washington to juggle its rotation. He will not start as scheduled on Friday against Atlanta and instead will take his next turn Tuesday against the Mets. Jason Bergmann's start moves back from Thursday to Friday.