Washington was proclaimed the unequivocal favorite in the National League East. The Nationals have played one less game than the Phillies and possess only one more win. With a mere 12 percent of the season complete, perspective is indispensable.
The path to victory Monday started with a two-out Erik Kratz walk in the sixth. Pinch-hitter Ezequiel Carrera batted for the first time in five days and dribbled one to second. He beat the throw with a headfirst slide into first base.
"That's what happens when you can run a little bit and hit the ball in the right place," manager Charlie Manuel said. "The baseball gods are with you."
That set the stage for Jimmy Rollins, who smashed an RBI single to right. Kratz scored the decisive run.
Pittsburgh arrived with steam. The Pirates had taken three of four from powerful Atlanta, which is tied for the best record in baseball. They were silenced by Pettibone, who pitched as if he belonged. His six strikeouts were the most for any Phillies pitcher in his major-league debut since Cole Hamels fanned seven in 2006. Pettibone was the youngest pitcher to start a game for the Phillies in six years. He is their first player born in the 1990s.
The safer pick to start was Tyler Cloyd, who made six big-league appearances at the end of 2012. Pettibone was informed Sunday afternoon. He phoned his family in California. They caught a red-eye flight to be at Citizens Bank Park.
"As a staff up in Lehigh, we all kind of joked around with it," Pettibone said. "Just having fun. 'Oh, it's going to be you. It's going to be you.' But no one really had an idea."
He induced an easy grounder from Andrew McCutchen to start the sixth. But Manuel pulled him at 83 pitches because three lefthanded Pirates batters were next. Lefty Raul Valdes, used in low-leverage situations before Monday, struck out the two batters he saw.
The beginning was shaky for Pettibone. He survived a first inning that included a 350-foot double, a deep fly-out, a questionable strikeout call, and a spectacular run-saving catch by John Mayberry Jr., all in the span of 18 pitches.
Pittsburgh twice scored on home runs. Pettibone succeeded with a low-90s fastball and change-up combination. The Pirates made some loud outs; the breeze blowing in helped the pitcher.
"I wanted to pitch to my strengths," Pettibone said. "I wanted to go after these guys. Whatever happened, happened."
His performance - two runs on six hits with no walks in 51/3 innings - likely merits another start, Saturday in New York. Manuel would not commit to that, saying, "Let me think about it." Fifth starter John Lannan could miss up to two months with a knee injury.
Pettibone could have won his first start had his offense converted a bounty of lost opportunities early in the game. The Phillies were 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position over the first four innings. They scored two runs against A.J. Burnett, who failed to locate his pitches all night. Those runs came via a wild pitch and a hit batter.
"When we get good pitching like we did, we have to win a game," Manuel said. "That's probably the difference between us having a winning record right now and being a couple of games under .500."
Contact Matt Gelb at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @magelb.