- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Washington Nationals yesterday morning severely crippled the Philadelphia Phillies’ postseason hopes with a 3-1 victory that ended at 2:07 a.m.

The Phillies entered the game 11/2 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League wild-card race. They limped out of RFK Stadium two full games behind the Dodgers with just three games left, entering last night’s game at the Florida Marlins.

A 41/2-hour rain delay sent most of the Nationals fans home. When left-hander Mike O’Connor’s first pitch crossed the plate at 11:32 p.m., about 1,000 raucous Phillies fans remained.

The Phillies fans swarmed the railings up and down both lines and stood for most of the game, which took 2:35.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever experience that kind of crowd, that kind of atmosphere again; that was pretty unique,” Nationals catcher Brian Schneider said.

Added outfielder Ryan Church: “It’s just good to go out and hopefully ruin their season, play as a spoiler, especially with the number of fans that made that trip down here expecting them to lay it on us and them just to coast and make the playoffs. [The Phillies fans] were calling you everything but your first name. I just had to bite my lip. I almost told them they better buy season tickets for the Eagles.”

Church matched a career high with his ninth homer of the season — a solo shot to right field in the second inning. Schneider added a two-run single in the sixth inning.

“What you want to do is to play the role, go out and play them hard and try to beat them and that’s it,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “That’s our duties to do. We owe that to the other people in the [playoff] race. I would expect the same thing if I was in the situation and another team is playing a team that is competing with me for a division title or the wild card.”

2007 schedule

After opening on the road their first two seasons, the Nationals will start next year’s schedule at home — kicking off a seven-game homestand against the Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks (April 2-8).

From 1952 to 1971, the Washington Senators traditionally opened at home, with the president throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. It’s undetermined whether President George W. Bush will toss out the first pitch next spring.

The Nationals will play six interleague games against the Baltimore Orioles. “The Battle of the Beltways” series begins May 18-20 with a three-game series at RFK. The Nationals visit Camden Yards June 12-14 in a three-game series in Baltimore.

Other interleague games include the playoff-bound Detroit Tigers visiting RFK on June 18-20. The Cleveland Indians follow June 22-24. For road interleague games, the Nationals play a three-game series at the Minnesota Twins (June 8-10) and then go to Toronto for a three-game set June 15-17. In what is becoming an annual tradition, the Nationals will play host to the Chicago Cubs on July 4.

Kearns’ season over

Robinson said he is going to sit starting right fielder Austin Kearns for this weekend’s season-ending series against the New York Mets at RFK.

Kearns injured the entire left side of his body in a collision with first baseman Nick Johnson last Saturday at Shea Stadium in New York. Johnson broke his right leg and Kearns hasn’t played in the field since. A recent CT scan taken on Kearns came back negative.

Kearns aggravated his side as an emergency pinch hitter in Wednesday’s 14-inning, 8-7 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. He was forced into action in the ninth inning when Robinson ran out of available bench players.

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