Located between the epicenters of government and business in Washington and New York, once-world renowned Philadelphia has a monstrous chip on its shoulder for what it’s not. That civic jealousy is reflected in the vicious attitude of its sports fans, who can be just as mean towards the home team as to the visitors.
Eagles fans got into it at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field with the mother of then-Redskins running back Clinton Portis a few years back. The all-time record for most penalty minutes in a Caps game came against the Flyers, a classic in which coaches Terry Murray of Washington and Paul Holmgren of Philadelphia threatened each other with sticks.
It hasn’t been quite so hairy during contests between the Bullets/Wizards and the 76ers, but two years ago, a vulgar Phillies fan was arrested for allegedly vomiting on purpose on an 11-year-old girl who committed the sin of rooting for the Nats at Citizens Bank Park. And that’s when the Nats were lousy.
So imagine the angst of the Phillies fans who will be on hand at Nats Park this weekend as National League East-leading Washington (16-9) takes on fourth-place Philadelphia (13-13).
The three-game series will be the first matchup of the perennial division champion Phillies and the usual doormat Nats since the latter stunned the former by sweeping a four-game set last September in the City of Brotherly Hate (I went to college in Philly. We kid because we love). Those four victories gave Washington the season series, 10-8, after Philadelphia had won 15 of 18 in 2010 for a three-year dominance of 39-15.
Prior to that unexpected success as the 2011 campaign came to a close, the Nats were just 45-79 against the Phillies, their worst mark against any of their division rivals.
While those unlikely victories behind the pitching quartet of Tom Gorzelanny, Ross Detwiler, the since-demoted John Lannan and the since-trade Brad Peacock meant nothing for a ballclub playing out the string, this weekend’s trifecta looms much larger for a team atop the N.L. East nearly a sixth of the way through the season.
Washington manager Davey Johnson will send his trio of aces, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann to the mound against a Philadelphia rotation of Vance Worley (who?) and spot starter Kyle Kendrick along with standout Cole Hamels now that Cliff Lee is on the shelf and fellow Cy Young winner Roy Halladay left the team briefly for personal reasons after getting rocked on Wednesday.
And while the Nats’ offense has been scuffling in the absence of sluggers Michael Morse and Ryan Zimmerman, the Phillies are minus the even bigger bats of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.
Washington and Philadelphia also face each other May 21-23 at Citizens Bank but then don’t meet again until July 31, so this weekend will be a perfect time for the Nats to show that they truly belong with the big boys after winning seven of eight series so far from the likes of the hapless Houston Astros, San Diego Padres, New York Mets and Chicago Cubs.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March.