Saturday, August 25, 2012

Phillies win third straight, sixth of eight

PHILADELPHIA - For the Phillies of 2012, there would be one instruction manual for what was assumed to be an easy-to-assemble summer of routine championship contention.
Enjoy strong starting pitching. Make full use out of $50,000,058 closer Jonathan Papelbon. Connect in the eighth inning with Antonio Bastardo.
And while the project has wobbled into the final hours of August, it worked Saturday to those exact specs in a 4-2 victory over the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park.
Roy Halladay pitched seven innings and hardly threw anything an inch wide of the strike zone in improving to 8-7 and outperforming Washington starter Gio Gonzalez. Bastardo struck out the side in the eighth. And Papelbon needed just 10 ninth-inning pitches for his 29th save.
John Mayberry homered to put the Phillies ahead in the sixth, then rewarded Chase Utley for some basepath hustle by luring him home with an eighth-inning sacrifice fly RBI. Mayberry had three RBIs, giving him seven in the last six games.
The Phillies won their third consecutive game and their sixth in their last eight. The Nationals, who have lost their last three, had their N.L. East lead over Atlanta shaved to 5 1/2 games.
Do they still have a chance?
“Absolutely,” Utley said.
Halladay lasted seven innings, throwing 105 pitches, striking out six and allowing seven hits. He held the Nationals hitless until Bryce Harper singled to lead off the fourth, and left with a 3-2 lead. He has allowed 11 earned runs over his last 36 innings. Of Halladay's 105 pitches, only 19 were out of the strike zone.
Charlie Manuel, never at a patience crisis, trusted the lead to Bastardo, proof that he still considers the inconsistent left-hander a useful eighth-inning gangplank between his strong starting pitching and Papelbon.
“We are going to get Bastardo where we want him,” Manuel said. “We know how good he can be. And it's still there. It's just a matter of us getting it out of him, and him getting it out of himself. He will.”
Bastardo faced three hitters - Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche - and struck them all out, showing some of the drive that had made him so valuable last season.
“With the type of person he is and the type of pitcher he is, I think sometimes when he feels real good you see the aggressiveness,” Manuel said. “I think sometimes he doesn't realize the kind of difference in him. Last year, when he was really good, when he would come in the ball was really flying out of his hand and he was beating the hitters. Now, if he can just get back close to where he was last year, he is going to be good.”
Despite having pitched in three of the last four games, including the previous two, Papelbon was ready for the ninth.
Mayberry turned on Gonzalez's first sixth-inning pitch and plunked it into the left-field seats for his 12th home run of the season.
“Leading off the inning, I just wanted to get something started,” Mayberry said. “I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit and put it in play hard. I was able to get one out of there. The second time, basically, Chase did all the work.”
Utley was hit by a Sean Burnett to begin the Phils' eighth, then stole second and third for his fifth and sixth stolen bases of the season. When Mayberry hammered a fly to deep right-center, Utley rolled home for the 4-2 lead.
“It was a pretty good game,” Utley said. “Roy pitched well. Pappy looked crisp and fluid and was throwing strikes with all of his pitches. It was nice to see that.”
The Phillies made Gonzalez throw 31 first-inning pitches and took a 2-1 lead. Jimmy Rollins, who walked, went to third on a Kevin Frandsen single. He scored on Utley's ground single to right. On a Ryan Howard ground-out, Frandsen took third, from where he would score on Mayberry's infield hit behind second.
The Nationals forced a 2-2 tie in the fifth when Steve Lombardozzi singled to center to deliver Danny Espinosa and Kurt Suzuki, who narrowly beat the throw from John Mayberry despite thorough plate coverage by Erik Kratz.
Gonzalez, once Phillies property, struck out seven in six innings, but left trailing, 3-2, after throwing 107 pitches. He fell to 16-7.
“If we can keep going and close out the season with some victories,” Manuel said, “then we can see what happens.”


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