Phils fire on all cylinders to beat Nats
Werth hits slam, Utley steals home and Blanton tosses gem
PHILADELPHIA -- The Nationals don't often provide a playoff preview.
But on a frigid Wednesday night that felt like October, the Phillies showcased their postseason potency.
They manufactured an early run on a double steal. They benefited from a Jayson Werth grand slam in the seventh that broke the game open. And they received stellar pitching, falling one out shy of their third consecutive shutout. They finished with 26 consecutive scoreless innings, their most since 1995.
So even against the Majors' worst team, the 6-1 victory at Citizens Bank Park managed to send a message: The Phillies are hardly one-dimensional. They extended their division lead over the Marlins to seven games and cut their magic number to 11.
Not that manager Charlie Manuel wouldn't have minded a more lopsided score from the start.
"We're playing good enough to win," he said. "When you play in close games every night, that has to help you. But at the same time, I'd like to see us jump out and beat people. I'd like to see us beat them where we scare them, if you want to know the truth."
The Phillies wound up with the biggest scare on Wednesday, when reliever Chan Ho Park hurt his right hamstring. The injury is classified as a strain, but could be worse: Park said he felt a pop when throwing the final pitch of the seventh inning. He was limping badly and struggled to put on his jeans, and will be reevaluated on Thursday.
Ryan Madson came in to pitch the eighth, and had the game remained close, Manuel planned to call on beleaguered closer Brad Lidge for the ninth.
But Werth eliminated any save situation when, with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, launched a Jason Bergmann slider over the left-center-field wall for his second grand slam of 2009.
Werth had been talking recently to Matt Stairs, a career .352 hitter with the bases loaded, about those situations.
"[I] picked his brain about my approach and just about what he's thinking up there," Werth said. "That was the first chance I had to really go out there with that mind-set. So far, he's helped me out with it."
Werth helped give the Phillies some breathing room, too; for the first five innings, they were relying on unlikely speedster Ryan Howard.
With runners on the corners in the first inning, Howard, who stole just two bases from 2004-08, took off for second. Philadelphia's slimmed-down first baseman slid in under the throw from Wil Nieves for his career-high seventh swipe of the year.
Chase Utley, alert as always, darted home on the play to become the 10th 20-20 player in franchise history. The Phillies have stolen home twice in a season for the first time since 1997.
Howard and Manuel credited first-base coach Davey Lopes for setting everything in motion.
"He said, 'If you see something, go for it,'" Howard said. "He said, 'Be ready.'"
Added Manuel: "He sees things that I don't see. He's a tremendous baserunning instructor."
But Manuel also said that there was no way Howard would have taken off last year, when he weighed around 275 pounds by the end of the World Series. This season, the slugger has hovered around 235-240 pounds, a significant drop.
"I always knew what kind of an athlete I was," Howard said. "Now it's just a matter of trying to maximize it. I always knew I was kind of fast. People don't usually pay attention and what not. I'm just trying to go out there and do what I can."
Starter Joe Blanton was not overly dominant, but the Nationals -- who lined into two double plays and had other miscues on the basepaths -- enabled him to get through six scoreless innings. He allowed just five hits and struck out seven, but he also issued four walks.
Still, it was an important recovery from his last outing, when this same Washington squad battered him for eight runs in 4 2/3 innings.
The Phillies' run of 26 consecutive scoreless innings was snapped with two outs in the ninth inning, when Willie Harris smacked an RBI single off Tyler Walker. That also ended Walker's personal-best stretch of 14 consecutive scoreless innings.
The starters' streak, though, is still standing -- 23 innings and counting. Pedro Martinez tossed an eight-inning, no-run beauty on Sunday night and Cliff Lee threw a complete-game shutout on Tuesday.
"Just as hitting is contagious, pitching is, too," Blanton said. "You see this guy have success, that guy, that guy, and that kind of thought gets in your head. ... You don't even think about it, but it gets in your mind a little bit. It breeds confidence."
David Gurian-Peck is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.