"I don't think any of us are just going to roll over and give them games," said Roy Halladay, who pounded the strike zone for seven innings. "We want to make a little bit of a statement. We still want to play. We still want to compete. We're just not going to give anything away."
Washington has lost two series since the all-star break, both to the Phillies, who have a 6-5 head-to-head advantage this season.
With the postseason beyond reach, a winning record against Washington is one goal the Phillies can attain. They failed to do such in 2011, even when winning 102 times. They were 8-10 against the Nationals.
Manager Charlie Manuel has downplayed the effect of beating the Nationals, saying he wants to see more wins no matter the opponent. During the final two months of last season, the Nationals won seven of nine games vs. the Phillies and used it as a rallying point before this charmed year.
"They're going to be good for a while," Halladay said. "It's important for us to play well against them even in a season that hasn't gone the way we wanted."
There were overwhelming signs of positivity on this night. Halladay threw with precision of old. John Mayberry Jr. accounted for three RBIs, including a smashed a solo blast to put the Phillies ahead for good in the sixth. Later, Chase Utley was struck by a pitch, stole two bases, and scored on a sacrifice fly.
"Evidently," Manuel said, "Utley's legs were feeling good tonight."
Antonio Bastardo, reliable setup man turned enigma, struck out the heart of Washington's order - Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche - in an electric eighth inning.
Leery of his inconsistency, Manuel allowed Bastardo to face only one hitter Friday. The plan changed a day later.
"He rewarded us for it," Manuel said. "He got some big outs."
He added: "That right there shows I still have confidence in him. I hope it helps."
Halladay was dented only in the fifth inning and it was death by singles. He permitted three straight base hits to the bottom of the Nationals batting order. With the bases loaded and one out, pitcher Gio Gonzalez chopped one to second. Utley fired to cut the runner at home plate.
That decision may have cost two runs. Utley fielded the ball with a chance at a double play because Gonzalez was running. Instead, he went the route that guaranteed no run would score.
Only that allowed Steve Lombardozzi a chance to bat and he promptly lashed a Halladay cutter to center for two runs and a tie game.
Minus that, Halladay was sharp. He finished seven innings and threw 105 pitches; 86 for strikes and 19 balls. It was the most strikes he's thrown in a game this season.
Manuel watched the spring blueprint of stellar pitching and timely hitting unfold too late. Better than never.
"We're definitely enjoying playing," Manuel said. "If you watch us, we have a little step in our get-along. We're good."
The Nationals would agree.
Contact Matt Gelb at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @magelb.