- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 27, 2008

PHILADELPHIA - The Fightin’ Phils are going back to the playoffs. Just getting there won’t be good enough this time.

Jimmy Rollins made a sliding stop with the bases loaded to start a game-ending double play, and the Philadelphia Phillies clinched their second consecutive NL East title by holding off the Washington Nationals 4-3 on Saturday.

Rollins went to his knees to snare Ryan Zimmerman’s sharp grounder toward the middle. He made an accurate flip to second base with his glove and rejoiced when Chase Utley’s relay throw completed the double play.

A sellout crowd of 45,177 rocked Citizens Bank Park, waved rally towels and watched the Phillies earn back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time since 1980-81.

Now they’d like to see them make the most of it.

A large banner held up in the left-field stands summed it perfectly: “World Series Or Bust.”

Philadelphia was swept out of the first round by the Colorado Rockies last season after a remarkable finish just to get in. Trailing the Mets by seven games with 17 left, the Phillies took advantage of New York’s historic collapse and clinched the division on the final day of the regular season.

They were excellent down the stretch again this season. The Phillies were 3 1/2 games behind New York after losing to Florida on Sept. 10. But they swept a four-game series against Milwaukee and won 10 of 11 to gain six games in the standings in 12 days.

Brad Lidge barely escaped the ninth, getting help from Rollins at shortstop to earn his 41st save in 41 tries. Players rushed the field after Rollins’ sensational play and everyone piled on near second base, beginning the party.

Philadelphia will open the best-of-five division series at home Wednesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers or Milwaukee Brewers.

A championship-starved city that’s suffered through a 25-year title drought now rests all its hopes on the Phillies, who have one World Series title in the franchise’s 126 years.

These passionate fans haven’t celebrated a championship since the NBA’s 76ers won it all in 1983. They’ve been frustrated by plenty of heartbreaking defeats and disappointing endings, but the die-hards showed up in record numbers to support the Phillies this year. The team set a new attendance record and has 49 sellouts.

By the time the Phillies came to the plate in the first, Johan Santana already had pitched the Mets to a 2-0 victory over Florida. With no reason to watch the out-of-town scoreboard, the Phillies took care of their own business.

Jamie Moyer (16-7) allowed one run and six hits in six innings, matching Hall of Famer Phil Niekro for most wins by a pitcher 45 or older. Niekro, a knuckleballer, had 16 wins at 45 and 46 while pitching for the New York Yankees in 1984-85.

Moyer easily could’ve won 20 games with a little more run support. He had a stretch of 14 consecutive starts in which he allowed three runs or less, but only went 5-4 in that span.

Relying on his typical assortment of slow stuff and barely-80s fastball, Moyer kept the Nationals off-balance. The native son also earned the win in last year’s clinching game against Washington. Moyer grew up in nearby Souderton and played hooky from school to attend the Phillies’ victory parade on Broad Street in 1980. He’d like to be riding on the float this time.

Chad Durbin pitched a scoreless seventh and Ryan Madson allowed one run in the eighth, helped by an outstanding catch by Rollins.

With runners at second and third and no outs, Rollins ran a long way to make an over-the-shoulder catch on Lastings Milledge’s sacrifice fly to shallow center that cut the Phillies’ lead to 3-2.

Center fielder Shane Victorino was shaken up after Rollins ran into him, but stayed in the game. He singled and scored an insurance run on Pedro Feliz’s RBI double in the eighth.

Anderson Hernandez blooped an RBI single to cut it to 4-3 in the ninth. Cristian Guzman followed with a single to load the bases with one out, but Rollins stopped the rally.

The Phillies are heading to the postseason for the 11th time in franchise history, though they haven’t won a playoff game since losing the 1993 World Series to Toronto.

Not known for their situational hitting, the Phillies used a pair of sacrifice flies to take a 2-0 lead in the fourth.

Utley fisted a single over the second baseman’s head to start the inning. After Ryan Howard dropped a single to left to put runners at the corners, Pat Burrell’s sacrifice fly gave the Phillies a 1-0 lead. Victorino followed with a single and Feliz walked to load the bases. Carlos Ruiz’s sacrifice fly made it 2-0.

Hernandez cut the deficit in half with a two-out RBI double off right fielder Jayson Werth’s glove in the fifth. Werth answered in the bottom half with an opposite-field homer to right.

Nationals starter John Lannan (9-15) gave up three runs and seven hits in five innings.

Notes: Moyer earned his 246th win, tying Joe McGinnity for 47th on the career list. … Philadelphia was 22-11 in Moyer’s 33 starts.

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