The Washington Times - May 21, 2012, 10:02AM

The word first came out of another player’s mouth, hours before Bryce Harper would say them to a group full of television cameras: batteries. 

“Just called the Target in Philly,” the player said. “They’re all out of batteries.”

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The sentence was said with a smile, the joke obvious.

But the sentiment behind it — that the Nationals know they are most likely about to walk directly into the lion’s den this evening in Philadelphia — was real. The Nationals first series against the Phillies this year, one in which their marketing department launched a blanket campaign to urge Nationals fans to reclaim their territory, was an on-field success for Washington. The Nationals won two of three games.

But Cole Hamels hit Bryce Harper, apparently to teach him a lesson, and Jayson Werth was screamed vile things at by Phillies fans as he walked off the field clutching his broken left wrist, his mind racing as he wondered what another major injury would do to a part of his body that already once almost cost him his career. And Mike Rizzo verbosely defended his 19-year-old outfielder and condemned Hamels’ actions. 

If there was a flicker of a rivalry between the two clubs (or at least between their fanbases) when the weekend began, it seemed entirely aflame by the time the Nationals landed in Pittsburgh to put the Philadelphia series behind them.

And that’s what makes these three days in Philadelphia so intriguing. That, and the fact that it’s the start of a brutal divisional stretch for the Nationals. And the Phillies, for all their rough start seemed to take from them, are still a .500 team who’ve only won three fewer games than the Nationals.

These games are the ones that get starred on the schedule. The ones you look back to over the course of a season as opportunities either seized or squandered. Count Harper among those who aren’t preparing to back down from whatever this series brings.

“Hopefully I get a couple boos,” Harper said. “That’d be awesome. I’m excited to get up there and play. Hopefully they don’t throw any batteries or whatnot at me.”

The atmosphere in Philadelphia should be a good one. In fact, in the past, several Nationals have said how much fun it is to play in Philly because the fans pack the park every night and you can feel the attention and excitement with every pitch. But what’s happening between the two clubs, and in the division should serve to amp that up even more.

Chances are, the on-field portion of this episode is over. It’s more than likely that both dugouts will be warned before the first pitch and any infraction henceforth will result in immediate ejections. If a player is hit with a pitch, say goodbye to the pitcher and his manager. With these games carrying significant weight for both teams, it’d be a foolish undertaking. 

And while the prospect of being hit with batteries thrown by fans probably carries with it significant fear, the biggest challenge for the Nationals this weekend is of course the Phillies, who are 6-2 in their last eight games.

“I think everybody knew early on that (Philly not playing well) wasn’t going last for long,” said Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche. “That’s a great team, even with a couple of their big guys hurt. Great pitching. They have a knack for getting big hits and scoring runs, so it’s going to be tough. They’re starting to come around, and it’ll be another battle for us.”