- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2006

Marlon Anderson played so well last night, he catapulted the Washington Nationals to a rare, dramatic victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. Little did the veteran bench player know his efforts would earn him a ticket out of town and into the thick of a pennant race.

Anderson scored from third on Aaron Fultz’s two-out wild pitch in the 10th, giving the Nationals a 6-5 win over the Phillies that already had included a ninth-inning rally.

About an hour later, Anderson learned he had been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitching prospect Jhonny Nunez, one of two deals general manager Jim Bowden pulled off late last night. Fellow bench player Daryle Ward also was traded, sent to the Atlanta Braves for 21-year-old pitcher Luis Atilano.

Both Nationals players had to pass through waivers in order to be dealt. Both also were acquired minutes prior to baseball’s Sept. 1 deadline to set postseason rosters.

Bowden was able to find a taker for Anderson despite the fact that he still has another season left on his two-year, $1.85 million contract. In exchange for the 32-year-old veteran, Washington received Nunez, a 20-year-old right-hander who was 6-0 with a 1.58 ERA in 10 games for the Dodgers’ Rookie-level Gulf Coast League team.

Ward, 31, provided the Nationals with a productive bat all season, hitting .308 with six homers and 19 RBI. But it was difficult to get him at-bats, so he was dealt to Atlanta in exchange for Atilano, a right-hander who went 6-7 with a 4.50 ERA in 19 games for Class A Myrtle Beach but underwent Tommy John surgery on Aug. 10.

The pair of trades came in the wake of Washington’s second win in 11 games, a win made possible thanks to Anderson, who scored the winning run on Fultz’s wild pitch, a 2-0 slider in the dirt that Ryan Church swung at and missed.

“That’s the best swing-and-miss I’ve ever had in my career,” Church said. “I still don’t know what happened. I didn’t know how to celebrate. I turn around and I see the pitcher diving, Marlon sliding. OK, we won. Yeah!”

Forgive Church and the Nationals for being a little stunned by the evening’s events. They’ve won so few ballgames lately, they don’t always know how to react.

This much was clear to those among the RFK Stadium crowd of 22,221 who stuck it out until the end last night: Washington (56-77) still has some heart.

“We’re not giving up,” Anderson said before learning of the trade. “We’re not in the playoff race. We’re not in anything else, and we’re playing a lot of teams that are. … But we’re going to keep playing hard.”

They showed as much in this one, scoring four runs in the final two innings to snatch victory from the Phillies.

Anderson played a key role throughout, jump-starting the ninth-inning rally by beating out a perfectly placed drag bunt against closer Arthur Rhodes. Brian Schneider followed with a double off the left-field wall, putting the tying runs in scoring position.

Young hitters Bernie Castro and Henry Mateo nearly killed the rally — Castro struck out and Mateo tapped out weakly to the mound — but the Nationals weren’t done. Alfonso Soriano was intentionally walked to the load the bases and bring Felipe Lopez to the plate. Washington’s No. 2 hitter came through, singling to left field to drive in both Anderson and Schneider with the tying runs.

“It’s very easy to be negative right now,” Schneider said. “Obviously, it’s not the way we wanted the year to go. It’s easy to hang your heads and look forward to next year. That’s not how it works around here. We’re going to continue to play hard until the last out.”

In this case, the Nationals had to continue to play hard in the 10th after giving the lead right back. With runners on first and third and two out, reliever Ryan Wagner threw a 1-0 slider to Jimmy Rollins. Rollins swung and missed, but the ball hit off Schneider’s wrist and bounced away. Abraham Nunez scored from third on what was ruled a passed ball but on further review perhaps should have been a foul ball.

Schneider knew something strange must have happened because he wasn’t crossed up by Wagner and couldn’t believe he missed the ball like that. Sure enough, a close examination of television replays appears to show the ball glancing off Rollins’ bat and changing directions ever so slightly.

No one questioned the play or complained at the time, but the Nationals might have been kicking themselves afterward had that play cost them the game.

“It was weird,” Schneider said. “It wasn’t a big foul tip or anything like that. But it was enough to take the ball and have it hit my wrist and not my glove. It’s a game of inches.”

Needing to rally once again, the Nationals did it in the 10th, getting a leadoff single from Nick Johnson and a one-out base hit from Anderson. Schneider followed with another clutch hit — an RBI single to left that scored Johnson and tied the game again.

Anderson advanced to third when Castro flied out, then bolted for the plate when Fultz bounced his 2-0 strike to Church in front of the plate. The Philadelphia pitcher tried in vain to corral the ball and tag a sliding Anderson, but the Washington veteran made it safely and set off a celebration following the second dropped-strike-turned-run of the inning.

“Anderson got a [heck] of a jump off third, and he was heads-up,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “Good baserunning, tremendous baserunning.”

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