- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 31, 2009

PHILADELPHIA | The perpetually finicky Philadelphia sports fans — who can find reasons to boo just about any situation, no matter how positive — have been in panic mode lately over their World Series champion Phillies.

As the locals would describe it: The pitching staff stinks, Jimmy Rollins is struggling, Brett Myers may be out for the season and the Phillies are only seven games over .500.

What those fans apparently don’t realize is that none of that matters when the Washington Nationals are in town and Ryan Howard has a bat in his hands. That lethal combination has given the Phillies and their fans plenty of reason to celebrate this season — and has given Manny Acta nothing but nightmares.

Take Howard out of the equation Saturday, and the Nationals would have cruised to victory at Citizens Bank Park. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case, so the big man’s two homers and five RBI counted toward Philadelphia’s 9-6 victory and ensured another aggravating loss for Washington.

Take your pick of humiliating stats that apply to the Nationals. They’ve lost 17 of their past 20. They’ve lost six straight to the Phillies. They lead the world with 48 errors. Their season record stands at 13-35, which means they would need to play .500 ball the rest of the way to get to 70 wins. They need to go at least 50-64 to avoid 100 losses.

Not even a fortuitous alignment of the stars Saturday — a vulnerable Cole Hamels pitching for Philadelphia, a perfect Shairon Martis starting for Washington — could turn out positive. Despite tagging Hamels for six runs, the Nationals were done in by Howard and Co.

Martis, who came in with a 5-0 record despite a 4.86 ERA, again got run support, but he forced his team to try to mount a big comeback because he couldn’t keep Howard inside the ballpark.

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