- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2006

With nothing else to play for in the final week of the season, the last-place Washington Nationals played spoiler, handing the Philadelphia Phillies a setback in their quest for a playoff berth.

Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman delivered a two-run double in the third inning to help lift Washington to a 4-3 victory over the Phillies before 18,960 last night at RFK Stadium.

Zimmerman, one of the candidates for National League Rookie of the Year, went 3-for-4 with a double, a run and three RBI. Zimmerman didn’t swing the bat like a man who went to bed around 6 a.m. yesterday.

One could excuse the Nationals (70-87) for being flat for this one. Their chartered train derailed early yesterday morning just north of Wilmington, Del., and after changing trains, the Nationals didn’t arrive at Union Station until just before 5 a.m.

The Phillies (82-75) entered last night’s game tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the lead in the National League wild card race. The Dodgers game at the Colorado Rockies ended too late for this edition.

Nationals starter Ramon Ortiz (11-15) earned just his second win in his last five outings. Closer Chad Cordero saved his 29th game in 33 chances, getting Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard to pop out to left fielder Alfonso Soriano.

Howard, who leads the majors with 58 home runs and 146 RBI, represented the go-ahead run at the plate. Phillies starter Brett Myers (12-7) took the loss. In just his second season, Howard is perhaps the most feared hitter in baseball.

“You still have to go out there and face him like anybody else,” Cordero said of his duel with Howard. “I wasn’t going to give him anything. You don’t want to put the winning run on base.”

Ortiz, who will start Sunday’s season finale against the NL East champion New York Mets, has struggled lately. After nearly no-hitting the NL Central leading St. Louis Cardinals on Labor Day, Ortiz had lost three consecutive starts, giving up five earned runs each time.

It looked like more of the same last night. The Phillies hit Ortiz hard early and often. Jimmy Rollins almost knocked Ortiz’s second pitch of the game out of the park when Ryan Church ran it down on the warning track in right field. Then came a barrage of singles.

Four consecutive one-out singles by Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Howard and Jeff Conine gave the Phillies a quick 2-0 lead.

“It didn’t look he’d be around long tonight,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said.

Ortiz received a lucky break in the second inning when an apparent three-run homer by Utley was ruled a foul ball when replays showed Utley’s ball just nicking the bottom of the right-field foul pole.

Trailing 2-1, Ortiz ran his pitch count up to 56 when Robinson went out to settle him down after hard back-to-back singles by Conine and Pat Burrell. Robinson’s strategy worked. Ortiz escaped the inning without allowing a run when he struck out catcher Mike Lieberthal and enticed Abraham Nunez to line out to center field to end the Phillies threat.

By the fifth inning, the Phillies had pounded 10 hits off Ortiz, but had just two runs to show for it. Ortiz, whose 15 losses are tied for the second-most in the majors, gave the Nationals six shaky innings. Somehow, Ortiz was able to escape disaster each inning. The Phillies left eight men on base during Ortiz’s six innings.

One reason was because Ortiz didn’t allow any walks. Despite allowing 10 hits, Ortiz struck out six in his 106-pitch outing.

“He got the big outs when we needed them,” Nationals catcher Brian Schneider said.

The Nationals used their speed at the top of the batting order to score one run in the first.

Bernie Castro led off the inning with a drag bunt to second. Castro advanced to third on Felipe Lopez’s single to right field and then scored on Zimmerman’s groundout to short. Castro’s run cut the Phillies lead to 2-1 after the first inning.

Zimmerman joined some impressive company with this 47th double of the season, which tied him for second-place on the all-time rookie list with Albert Pujols (2001), Fred Lynn (1975) and Vada Pinson (1959). The rookie record is 52 by Johnny Frederick of the 1929 Brooklyn Robins.

“I try to do something every game — don’t waste any at-bats,” Zimmerman said. “[The 47th double] tells you how big our park is.”

Phillies starter Brett Myers helped set up Zimmerman’s 106 and 107th RBI of the season when he walked Castro and Soriano. Zimmerman ripped a Myers pitch over Burrell’s head in left field. Zimmerman’s line drive scored Castro and Soriano for a 3-2 Nationals lead.

The Nationals added an insurance run in the eighth inning when Zimmerman got things going with a two-out single to left field. Zimmerman scored from second base on Brian Schneider’s slow roller to second. Phillies second baseman Utley was unable to pick up Schneider’s ball with his bare hand and Zimmerman extended the Nationals lead to 4-2.



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