- - Monday, September 23, 2019

The Washington Nationals moved one step closer to the playoffs. And the Philadelphia Phillies and right fielder Bryce Harper inched another game toward elimination.

That made for a fun evening for local supporters, as the Nationals hit a home run in each of the first three innings and beat the Phillies 7-2 on Monday night at Nationals Park.

The Nationals improved to 86-69 and and are one-half game ahead of the idle Milwaukee Brewers for the top wild-card spot. The Brewers (86-70) begin a series Tuesday at the Cincinnati Reds, who are 73-83.

“We know how important these games are,” Nationals starter Patrick Corbin said. “This was a good start to the homestand.”

Corbin improved to 14-7 after allowing just one run in six innings.

“(Corbin) had a really good fastball,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “They laid off his slider.”

Washington now has a magic number of three to clinch a playoff berth. The Atlanta Braves have clinched the National League East title, so the best the Nationals can hope for is a spot in the wild-card game on Oct. 1.

“It has been the same message every day …, ” Martinez said. “Just take care of tomorrow.”

Adam Eaton hit his career-high 15th homer on a solo shot in the first to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead.

Eaton ended the night with three hits.

He has dealt with injuries in his three seasons in Washington, but credited the athletic training staff for keeping him on the field this year. Eaton said he is in the best shape of his career in September “by far.”

Washington catcher Yan Gomes, forced to play nearly every day with Kurt Suzuki (elbow) on the mend, went deep in the second for a 2-0 lead.

Trea Turner homered to left in the third for a 3-0 advantage off Phillies starter Zach Eflin (9-13), who entered the game with a 1.50 ERA against Washington this season.

The Nationals scored two runs in the fifth to make it 5-0. Anthony Rendon drove in a run with a single and Asdrubal Cabrera had an RBI groundout after Washington loaded the bases for the second straight inning.

Philadelphia scored in the sixth when Cesar Hernandez drove in a run on a fielder’s choice to make it 5-1.

Rendon drove in his 122nd RBI of the season when he walked with the bases loaded in the eighth off reliever Edubray Ramos. The Phillies‘ hurler also gave a free pass to Juan Soto to let another run score and a 7-1 advantage. The Phillies scored a run in the ninth off Nationals reliever Javy Guerra.

The homers were nice, but one of the biggest fan reactions came when Harper struck out swinging against Corbin in the third. That strikeout meant pizzas for three bucks from a local eatery, which promised three-dollar pies when Harper fanned.

Harper struck out again in the eighth against Daniel Hudson, who threw a scoreless inning.

The five-game series resumes Tuesday with a day-night doubleheader. Joe Ross (3-4, 6.17) will start for the Nationals in the 1:05 p.m. game against the Phillies‘ Blake Parker. Nationals ace Max Scherzer (10-7, 2.81) will get the nod in the 7:05 p.m. contest. The Phillies are slated to start ace Aaron Nola (12-6, 3.75) in the second game Tuesday.

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