WASHINGTON (AP) -- Cole Hamels helped the surging Phillies keep pace in the NL wild-card race Wednesday night. The Washington Nationals did their part, too.
Hamels pitched eight strong innings and Ryan Howard hit a two-run double to lead Philadelphia to a 5-1 victory over Washington on Wednesday night.The Phillies, just a half-game behind NL wild-card leader San Diego, won for the eighth time in 11 games. They also took advantage of two errors and some mental miscues that left Nationals manager Frank Robinson angry afterward.The 22-year-old Hamels (7-7), who started the season with Class A Clearwater, had little trouble in this one. He gave up only four hits with three strikeouts and two walks before Arthur Rhodes came on in the ninth. Hamels threw 104 pitches, 69 for strikes, in one of his best efforts."I definitely think I lucked out a little bit because I didn't have all three pitches working," Hamels said. "But just having two, and obviously facing them the past two games, letting them know what I do have, keeps them a little more off balance."Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said his team is having fun now that it's back in the wild-card race and over .500 at 67-65."We're loose and we play hard," Manuel said. "Of course, we've played hard all year long, at times we just didn't play consistently. Right now, we're doing pretty good."The Nationals had few scoring chances and got their only run on Alfonso Soriano's 43rd homer in the eighth.Philadelphia helped Hamels with a two-out, three-run rally in the third.Jimmy Rollins singled and Shane Victorino walked before Chase Utley lined an RBI single off second baseman Jose Vidro's glove. Howard followed with a two-run double over center fielder Ryan Church's head to give the Phillies a 3-0 lead."When you can go out there and get the pitcher something to work with, it gives him confidence to go out there and shut the other team down," Howard said. "Obviously, I got a pitch to hit and didn't miss it. It was a 3-0 fastball and [Ortiz] put it right down the middle."That inning upset Robinson because he thought Vidro should have made his play -- something the second baseman later agreed with -- and the Nationals were trying to pitch around Howard. But Ortiz threw a fastball over the plate on a 3-0 count.The Phillies added a run in the sixth thanks to more Washington trouble on left fielder Soriano's two-base error with one out. Pat Burrell reached when Soriano and Church converged and neither could catch his fly ball on the warning track.Soriano was charged with the error, and the Phillies later loaded the bases with one out. Abraham Nunez made it 4-0 with an RBI groundout.Nunez hit a high chopper that Washington starter Ramon Ortiz
(9-12) could do nothing with until it came down. By that point, Ortiz's only option was a throw to first while Burrell scored.Washington also made some other mistakes that stretched its losing streak to four. The Nationals have dropped nine of 10."That's a losing team," Robinson said. "The way we played tonight, and the way we've been playing recently, that's a losing team."Ortiz was also upset afterward, despite going six innings and keeping the Nationals close."Nothing is coming together," he said. "We lose a lot of games."Washington missed on its best scoring chance in the sixth. Ryan Zimmerman singled but was thrown out at the plate trying to score on Nick Johnson's double. Rollins made a perfect relay throw from short left field to get Zimmerman.Pinch-hitter David Dellucci's sacrifice fly in the ninth gave the Phillies their final run.
Washington catcher Brandon Harper got his first major-league error in an unusual way when his toss back to Ortiz in the second sailed into center field and Jeff Conine advanced to second. ... Ortiz hit two batters with pitches has plunked a team-high 17
hitters this season. ... Utley's RBI single broke an 0-for-24 skid against Washington. ... Conine doubled in the eighth for his first hit with the Phillies since being acquired from Baltimore on Sunday.