Oswalt, Phillies shut down Nationals

The Phillies' Ryan Howard steps up to the plate for his at-bat in the first inning, as an approaching storm moves in on Nationals Park. The game was stopped by rain before Howard's at-bat was completed. Friday's contest ended too late for this edition. For coverage, go to www.philly.com
The Phillies' Ryan Howard steps up to the plate for his at-bat in the first inning, as an approaching storm moves in on Nationals Park. The game was stopped by rain before Howard's at-bat was completed. Friday's contest ended too late for this edition. For coverage, go to www.philly.com (JACQUELYN MARTIN / Associated Press)
Posted: August 21, 2011

WASHINGTON - When the Phillies unveiled the Four Aces inside a Clearwater, Fla., cafeteria in February, Roy Oswalt sat silently and grinned. Nothing could derail the image of those pitchers forming one of the greatest rotations ever - except, oh, the daily grind of a 162-game season.

That grind claimed Oswalt on a rainy April night in South Philadelphia, when he grabbed his back and left a game. Two months later, in front of a locker in St. Louis, he wondered aloud about his future when the pain in his back was too great.

But it was here, the building where his Phillies career began a little more than a year earlier, where Oswalt made the Four Aces whole again Saturday. The life flowed through Oswalt's diminutive frame and into his right arm, which tossed eight shutout innings in a 5-0 Phillies win over the Washington Nationals. He struck out a season-high nine batters in what was unquestionably his finest performance of 2011.

"I felt pretty strong," Oswalt said. "I thought I could go one more."

Watching it all Saturday was a Nationals Park record crowd of 44,685, made possible by traveling Phillies fans. Buses poured the out-of-towners into the stadium area hours before first pitch. When Hunter Pence blasted a solo home run to left, the reaction was louder than some actual Phillies home games. Seconds before Mike Stutes induced a Danny Espinosa ground ball for the game's final out, nearly 90 percent of a still-full stadium stood and clapped.

The visiting fans held signs that read "Welcome to Citizens Bank Park South," taunted Jayson Werth, and departed with a bunch of Ian Desmond bobbleheads.

"You get used to it after a while," Oswalt said. "It's like a small Philly. Every time we come down here, we have fans here."

Inside the Phillies clubhouse, a red T-shirt rested on a chair proclaiming this stadium "Citizens Bank Park South" for Saturday night.

They roared when Oswalt sauntered off the mound at the end of the eighth inning. His renaissance is not the least bit surprising. Once Oswalt proclaimed himself healthy following an epidural injection to cure a bulging disk in his back, the life on his pitches returned.

"The biggest thing I noticed about him is he's moving better," Charlie Manuel said. "You can tell there's definitely more energy there. He's free to compete."

The closest Washington came to scoring was stifled by a perfect throw from leftfielder John Mayberry Jr. to nail Ryan Zimmerman at home in the fourth inning.

Of Oswalt's 115 pitches, Washington batters swung and missed at 15, a rate Oswalt had not reached in 2011. His fastball not only had life, but also the late movement that made Oswalt a perennial Cy Young candidate.

"When he wanted to," Manuel said, "it seemed like he could get a lot extra."

That was encouraging for obvious reasons, but especially since Oswalt was actually starting a day later than expected. He warmed up to pitch Friday's game only for the rain to come before he even stepped on the mound.

"It's the first time I started two games back-to-back," Oswalt said. "I told them if they keep doing that they have to pay me more."

They're already paying him $16 million, but if Oswalt can deliver during the stretch run, it will be a fruitful investment. This season was billed as one driven by the Four Aces. If Oswalt waited until August to reprise his role, that's just fine by the Phillies.

"It should be interesting," he said.

Indeed, the best pitching staff in baseball is even better.


Contact staff writer Matt Gelb

at mgelb@phillynews.com

or @magelb on Twitter.

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