- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 16, 2005

PHILADELPHIA — So much for a team-wide slump.

Preston Wilson hit two of a season-high tying four home runs last night for the suddenly hot-hitting Washington Nationals, who moved back into second place in the National League East with a 6-3 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies before 40,627 at Citizens Bank Park.

Nick Johnson and Brian Schneider also homered for the Nationals (63-55) in the first of seven road games against two division foes that could help determine whether Washington can stay in the pennant race in September.

“If you look at tonight’s ballgame, I don’t know how many of those balls would have gotten out of [RFK Stadium],” Schneider said.

The victory put Washington a half-game ahead of Philadelphia (63-56) in the division, but the Nationals remained a game behind Houston in the wild-card race. The Astros beat the Chicago Cubs last night.

Starter Livan Hernandez (14-5) was the beneficiary of the power display, picking up just his second win in his last eight starts. He allowed two runs on five hits in eight innings before giving way to closer Chad Cordero, who allowed a run in the ninth.

“I keep my head up and tried to do a better job today, and it happened,” Hernandez said.

The Nationals began the game with 87 home runs this season, tied with the San Francisco Giants for the fewest in major league baseball. But in the last seven games, Washington has hit 13.

Washington acquired Wilson on July13 from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for right-hander Zach Day, minor league outfielder J.J. Davis and future considerations to give it another home-run hitter in the middle of the order.

He had instant impact, homering against the Milwaukee Brewers on July14 in his first at-bat for Washington. Overall, however, Wilson had hit just .242 with four homers and 14 RBI in 27 games for the Nationals before last night. In addition, he was criticized for below-average play in the outfield.

He became the third Nationals player to hit multiple home runs in a game this season after Jose Guillen (four times) and rookie Ryan Church (June18 at Texas). Wilson had two other multihomer games with Colorado.

“It feels good to contribute to a win,” said Wilson, who has 21 home runs this season. “I think that’s going to be the thing about us down the stretch — a different night it’s going to be a different guy — and everybody is going to do their part and chip in.”

Two batters after Johnson hit his 12th homer of the season in the first inning, Wilson crushed a fastball by Brett Myers (10-6) 403 feet to straightaway center with Guillen aboard to give the Nationals a 3-0 lead.

Two innings later, Wilson added another two-run blast. With Guillen aboard after a walk, Wilson lofted an opposite-field shot that appeared to strike a fan in the hands and then the top bar of the right-field railing.

Various replays didn’t show conclusively that the fan touched the ball. However, the replays appeared to show Wilson’s ball struck the railing on a downward trajectory.

Phillies right fielder Bobby Abreu immediately pointed into the stands, trying to convince the umpiring crew the fan had interfered with the ball. After a brief conference, home plate umpire Rick Reed ruled it was a home run, giving the Nationals a 5-2 lead.

“It hit a fan in the hands and then came down. I looked at it,” Wilson said.

Hernandez struggled early. With one out in the first, he walked Kenny Lofton, allowed a single to Chase Utley and walked Abreu to load the bases. Pat Burrell then followed with a two-run single to left. Guillen, who started in left field for the first time this season because of tendinitis in his right elbow, attempted to throw out Utley at the plate, but Hernandez inexplicably cut off the throw, which looked like it would have gotten Utley by a few steps.

Schneider hit his ninth homer of the season off reliever Geoff Geary for the Nationals’ final run. The Phillies added the run in the ninth off Cordero when Mike Lieberthal singled in Ryan Howard with two outs.

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