Phils beat Nats with ‘small ball’ in 11th

Posted: August 01, 2010

WASHINGTON - As Wilson Valdez jogged into the dugout between innings, he decided he would try to bunt his way on base leading off the 11th inning of the Phillies' 6-4 win over Washington today at Nationals Park.

Every day, Valdez practices bunting for base hits during batting practice. Each round in the cage, Valdez tries one to the right side and then one to the left. He does it about 10 times each day.

The Phillies' lineup was without Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and Raul Ibanez. Howard was the latest casualty, spraining his left ankle in the first inning. He left the ballpark on crutches, but the Phillies were optimistic that the injury would not require a visit to the disabled list.

When Valdez came to bat in the 11th, there was just one healthy player remaining on the bench. In that situation, Valdez said he knew he had to get on base.

"You have to play it smart," Valdez said. "I know I have great speed."

He bunted a Collin Balester fastball to the right side, too far for Balester to field. Adam Dunn charged the ball and flipped it to Balester, covering first. Valdez dove headfirst into the bag and first-base umpire Doug Eddings signaled safe. Replays showed Valdez might have been out. He said he thought he was safe.

"That's good baseball," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "That's a smart play."

Valdez took second on a bunt by pitcher turned pinch-hitter Roy Oswalt. He took third on a fly out to center. And with two outs, Placido Polanco singled up the middle to score Valdez. Jayson Werth followed with a double to bring home Polanco, just for insurance.

Everything went right for the Phillies in the bottom half of the inning, too. One day removed from a brutal blown save, closer Brad Lidge atoned with a perfect 11th for his 11th save of the season.

"I really wanted the ball again today," Lidge said.

The Phillies avoided being swept by the Nationals for the first time since baseball returned to the nation's capital. They gained a game on the Atlanta Braves in the NL East and trail by 21/2 games with an off-day Monday.

The 11th inning salvaged a weekend that could have been worse.

With his bench short, Manuel sent Oswalt, who was acquired in a trade Thursday from Houston, to the plate after Valdez reached on his bunt single. It was the first time Manuel used a pitcher to pinch-hit this season.

In the eighth inning, pitching coach Rich Dubee approached Oswalt in the dugout and asked if he could bunt.

"Yeah, I can," Oswalt told him.

Oswalt went to the clubhouse, put his spikes on, and waited. The righthander had seven sacrifice bunts for Houston, more than any Phillie.

He had pinch-hit twice in his career, both in 2006. The last time, he hit a double against the Cardinals but missed first base and was called out.

"So I learned next time to make sure I hit first," Oswalt said.

Oswalt laid down a good bunt and Valdez moved to second. Jimmy Rollins hit a deep-enough fly ball to center that got Valdez to third. Then Polanco delivered.

"It took that to win," Manuel said. "We had to manufacture some runs and we did."

The bullpen had held the Nationals after Cole Hamels allowed four runs in seven innings. Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras were especially impressive. That set it up for Lidge.

After a blown save, every closer wants the ball the next day. Lidge said he wanted it even more than normal today.

"I'm not throwing 95 [m.p.h.] right now, but I know I can still get people out," Lidge said. "I know I can still make my pitches. I know my slider is still going to get swings and misses."

Ryan Zimmerman, Lidge's foil on Saturday, grounded out to third to begin the 11th. Josh Willingham flied out to right. Adam Kennedy flied out to left.

No sweat.

"A clean inning," Manuel said proudly.

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb

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