Fifteen days after its backers reclaimed Nats Park from Phillies phanatics as Washington took two of three from the perennial National League East champions, the teams meet again tonight, tomorrow and Wednesday in Philadelphia.
The Nats now trail Atlanta by a game and a half in the division race, but at 24-17, they’re still three and a half games ahead of the last-place Phillies (21-21).
What’s more, Washington is coming off a resounding 9-3 victory over American League-leading Baltimore yesterday at home while Philadelphia lost for a second straight day to visiting Boston. The Phillies were a meek 3-for-21 with runners in scoring position in those consecutive defeats while allowing 12 runs.
The Nats will send two of their top three pitchers, Gio Gonzalez (5-1, 2.22 earned run average) and Jordan Zimmermann (2-4 2.58) to the mound tonight and tomorrow while the Phillies will counter with Kyle Kendrick (0-3, 5.96) and two-time Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay, who’s having his first subpar season (4-3, 3.22) since 2007.
Gonzalez dominated the Phillies in winning on May 5 in Washington while Kendrick pitched well but didn’t get a decision in the Nats’ 4-3 victory on May 4 and Zimmermann took the loss as Philadelphia salvaged the finale on May 6.
That was the nationally televised game that Cole Hamels, one of Philadelphia’s aces, earned a five-game suspension for intentionally hitting Washington rookie standout Bryce Harper, in, the, ahem, backside.
“I was trying to hit him,” Hamels declared. “I’m not going to deny it. I’m not trying to injure the guy. I think they understood the message and they threw it right back (when Zimmermann plunked him).”
While Harper answered Hamels by using the walk to start a trip around the bases that he ended by becoming the first 19-year-old to steal home in 48 years and later referred to the lefthander as “a great guy, great pitcher, an all-star,” adding, “it’s all good,” Nats general manager Mike Rizzo was furious.
“Cole Hamels says he’s old school?” Rizzo told The Washington Post. “He’s the polar opposite of old school. He’s fake tough. I’ve never seen a more classless, gutless, chicken (expletive) act in my 30 years in baseball.”
And the feisty Rizzo wasn’t talking about the ever-classless pholks who’ll fill Citizens Bank Park the next three nights to jeer the Nats, and — depending on who’s winning — the home team.
So while the series might be decided tonight and tomorrow, the piece de resistance will undoubtedly come Wednesday when Hamels (6-1, 2.48) faces Harper and the Nats for the first time since the incident. Edwin Jackson (1-1, 3.31) will pitch for Washington.
The Nats were flying high when the teams squared off in Washington. They’re just 6-7 since that series ended. They’re 9-9 on the road compared to 15-8 at home and catcher Wilson Ramos and right fielder Jayson Werth have joined a lengthy injury list that has featured left fielder Michael Morse and closer Drew Storen all season.
The Phillies are 7-6 since losing two of three at Nats Park and are just 10-11 at home while adding right hander Vance Worley to an injury list that has featured former MVP Ryan Howard and five-time All Star second baseman Chase Utley all season.
Of course, these next three games aren’t taking place under the pressure of the playoffs or the heat of the pennant race. Heck, it’s not even Memorial Day yet. And sure, the Phillies haven’t been their usual dominant selves this season.
However, winning two of three from the struggling Phils in a joyful Nats Park when the home team was riding high was a lot easier for the Nats than repeating that performance in a hostile environment will be. But Washington and Philadelphia don’t meet again until July 31 so the Nats can send a message much bolder than the one Hamels failed to do if they can re-emphasize that they’re a serious threat to the Phillies’ NL East reign by succeeding on the kings’ turf, too.
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.