- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2007

If the Washington Nationals were to be favored in any one of this week’s four contests against the high-powered Philadelphia Phillies, last night’s game was the one to pick.

After all, the Nationals were starting Shawn Hill, the consistent owner of a 3.01 ERA, against the Phillies’ Adam Eaton, arguably the worst everyday starter in baseball.

But it was Hill, not Eaton, who found himself barraged by bats, as the Nationals lost 6-3 before a spirited crowd of 26,949 at RFK Stadium.

For the second straight night, the Phillies used a win over the Nationals to remain in the thick of the National League East race, pulling to within a single game of the leading New York Mets, who were in action late after a rain delay against the Florida Marlins. The Phillies also pulled within two games of the wild card-leading San Diego Padres, who faced the Colorado Rockies last night.

Hill started the game impressively, inducing quick outs to Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Pat Burrell, who entered the game with a combined 299 runs scored. And he entered the second inning with a 1-0 lead, after the Nationals scored on a bases loaded walk.

But the lead was erased within minutes, as Phillies slugging first baseman Ryan Howard led off the second by lacing a 2-1 pitch for an opposite field home run, his 42nd of the year.

“With him, there’s a lot of things he can do,” Hill said. “He’s obviously a very good hitter, as everyone knows. When you’re away and up, he can get to it.”

Hill recorded just two strikeouts against the Phillies, who have the third-most strikeouts in the National League.

In the third inning, Rollins singled and moved to third on an errant pick-off throw from Hill. He scored on a single by Utley, and Burrell made it 4-1 with a line-drive home run, his 29th of the year.

Rollins followed in the fifth with a home run into the Nationals bullpen to given the Phillies a 5-1 lead, and Howard stretched the lead to 6-1 with an RBI double.

“That’s a good ball club over there,” Nationals manager Manny Acta said. “If you don’t believe me, check the stats. They’ve scored 220 more runs than we have and have 80 more home runs that we have. That’s a good lineup. They can hit Shawn Hill, they can hit anybody.”

Overall, the Nationals managed just six hits, five of them singles, and left 10 men on base.

For Eaton, it was not a great outing, but one of his best in months. He had not won a game since July 20, and had given up fewer than three runs just once in his previous seven starts.

Eaton allowed 10 base runners, but allowed just one extra-base hit and managed to escape jams in both the first and second inning. He improved to 10-9 with a 6.33 ERA after allowing three runs in five innings.

He struggled with his control throughout the game, walking five overall and hitting outfielder Wily Mo Pena with pitches in both the first and fifth innings. The second plunking led Pena to exit the game with an injured right wrist; X-rays came back negative and he is listed as day-to-day.

Pena last night said he tested his right hand by swinging a bat and felt sharp pain. He said it was unlikely he would play tonight but said he could undergo an MRI if the pain does not subside.

On the bright side, Pena did manage to score in the fifth inning as the Nationals mounted a mini-comeback by cutting the lead to 6-3 on a two-RBI double by Robert Fick. But the Nationals never threatened to score again; they managed just a single hit in four innings against the Phillies’ beleaguered — yet recently resurgent — bullpen.

The Nationals now have eight remaining games, five against the Phillies and three against the Mets. It’s possible that no team in baseball will have a bigger impact on who goes to the playoffs.

“We’re playing a spoiler role, and we’re not going to back down,” outfielder Ryan Church said. “We’re going to come out and give it everything we’ve got and try to eliminate one of them. You want to go out there and ruin somebody’s season.”

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