The Phillies win pushed Washington to 51/2 games back of Cincinnati with 14 to play for the second wild-card berth. The nationals' odds are long. It will require an epic Reds collapse and legendary Washington run - beginning Sunday against Tyler Cloyd - to spur this comeback.
Sandberg removed Hamels, who battled flu symptoms, at 100 pitches. Justin De Fratus inherited the bases loaded and surrendered a sacrifice fly. Cesar Jimenez, a lefty labeled a bullpen sleeper by Sandberg before the game, permitted a bloop single to Bryce Harper that resulted in two runs because centerfielder Cesar Hernandez overran the ball. B.J. Rosenberg, the fourth pitcher of the seventh inning, stranded the tying run at third with a called strikeout of Wilson Ramos on a questionable pitch.
Jake Diekman relieved Rosenberg for the final out of the eighth, a chopper that the lanky lefty stabbed with a leap. The bullpen kids were shaky, but they survived. These September games serve as an audition for all of the relievers.
"The writing is pretty much on the wall," Sandberg said.
"Now they feel relaxed," catcher Carlos Ruiz said. "They don't have the pressure."
This was a taut game because of what was at stake for Washington. Papelbon's 27th save was most grueling. Ryan Zimmerman started the ninth with a double to left but was stranded there by his Nationals teammates.
"It was a heck of a game," Sandberg said. "They kept coming at us. Cole gave us everything he had."
The Phillies jumped ahead in the fifth inning when Carlos Ruiz delivered yet another key hit. He cleared the bases with a double to right. That broke a 1-1 tie. Ruiz recorded multiple hits for the fourth time in his last five games. His season batting average is .292.
"He definitely gave me a good pitch to hit," Ruiz said. "I'm not trying to do too much. Just put the ball in play and see what happens."
That is not a bad strategy.
"It's working so far," he said. "Hopefully I can continue that way."
Hamels' season ERA stands at 3.48 after his six-inning effort. He was not his sharpest - this outing marked the first time in 10 starts he failed to complete at least seven innings. The Phillies, nonetheless, have won seven straight Hamels starts.
The Nationals fans stood in the ninth as Sandberg ordered an intentional walk of Bryce Harper, who served as the potential winning run. They emitted an exasperated sigh as Jimmy Rollins snared a hard grounder for the 27th out. For the Phillies, there is satisfaction in watching Washington suffer an identical fate come October.
Contact Matt Gelb
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