As Washington Nationals reliever Chris Schroder strode to the mound to begin extra innings, it seemed as if the final night game at RFK Stadium might last well into the morning. Since knotting the score at one in the sixth, the Nationals had swapped scoreless innings with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Ryan Howard wasn't having any of it.
Perhaps it was his team's race with the New York Mets in the National League East. Maybe it was the thought of getting up for a 12:05 start this afternoon following a long night that didn't appeal to the defending NL MVP. Whatever his motivation, Howard — who was hitless in his previous four at bats heading into the 10th — belted a single to center, scoring second basemen Chase Utley. Howard's strike opened a three-run inning against Schroder and helped the Phillies escape with a 4-1 win in the penultimate baseball contest at the 46-yearold stadium.
"There's really not much I can say — Howard is a premier hitter in this league," said Nationals starter Tim Redding, who struck out seven and allowed only one run over 62/3 innings. "You have to go after him in that situation, but a lot of the time he's going to get the big hit."
Following the Phillies' three-run outburst, Clay Condrey calmly retired the Nationals side for his second save of the season.
The win kept Philadelphia within two games of the New York Mets in the NL East lead.
The game got off to a fast start as Utley launched a 2-1 offering from Redding into the right-field bleachers. Utley's blast — his 21st of the year — stretched his hitting streak to 17 games. But Redding rebounded from his first inning slipup, swapping scoreless innings with Philadelphia starter Kyle Kendrick.
"Tim was outstanding," Nationals manager Manny Acta said. "He gave us a chance. We couldn't get anything going offensively."
The Nationals did have their share of opportunities. In the third, second baseman Ronnie Belliard reached safely after a disputable call by first base umpire Gary Darling and first baseman Robert Fick knocked a single to left, but catcher Brian Schneider squelched the Nationals' hopes with a weak dribbler to first.
The Nationals staged another would-be comeback in the fourth, when Ryan Church singled to left and advanced to second after Belliard onehopped a hit over Utley's head. Fick flied out to deep left field to end the threat.
Washington finally solved Kendrick for a run in the sixth. Zimmerman singled, then advanced on Ryan Church's single. Belliard grounded into a fielder's choice to shortstop Jimmy Rollins, whose throw dribbled through Howard's legs, allowing Zimmerman to trot safely home from third.
Kendrick exited the following inning after striking out six and giving up one unearned run. Two batters later, Redding left to a standing ovation after a stellar 62/3 innings in which he struck out seven and allowed only one run on eight hits.
The Nationals blew their best chance at victory in the seventh. Schneider tripled to center, but pinch-runner Christian Guzman was thrown out at the plate by Utley. Zimmerman then struck out to end the inning.
"We battled," Acta said. "We had our chance to win with a man on third and no outs."