“I thought it was gone when he hit it,” Washington manager Frank Robinson said. “I said it was a home run.”
Instead, Brad Wilkerson caught it against the 401-foot sign in center and Phillies fans headed for the exit. Philadelphia’s game-tying rally was denied and Cordero saved another one-run win for the first-place Nationals.
“Probably in our ballpark it would have been 20 or 30 feet short,” joked Wilkerson, who had three hits and started a relay throw that nailed Philadelphia’s tying run at the plate in the sixth.
Washington nearly wasted a five-run lead in the middle innings, giving up three runs in the fifth and four more in the sixth.
But Gary Majewski pitched two scoreless innings of relief, and Cordero threw a scoreless ninth for his league-leading 31st save. Washington earned its major league-leading 24th one-run victory.
“It would have been kind of devastating if we let this one get away,” Robinson said.
The Nationals had dropped three of four to the Mets for their first series loss at home since April. But they had 11 hits and dropped the last-place Phillies 9 1/2 games back in the division.
“This was a huge win for us, especially after the series we just had,” Cordero said.
Ryan Drese (3-1) continued to turn his season around since the Nationals claimed him off waivers in early June, allowing just one hit until he gave up three runs in the fifth.
By that time, the NL East-leading Nationals already had staked him to a 5-0 lead against Robinson Tejeda (1-2), who lasted just 3 1-3 innings in the worst of his six starts this season.
Tejeda hit two batters in the third and walked Vinny Castilla with the bases loaded. Cepicky, whose RBI double in the second made it 1-0, drove in two more runs in the third with a single for a 4-0 lead. Jose Guillen added an RBI single in the fourth.
Philadelphia got to Drese for three runs in the fifth, two on Howard’s double. Howard was 2-for-5 with three RBIs.
The Nationals, though, came right back in the sixth on Baerga’s first homer since last August 13 against the Mets. The switch-hitting first baseman went deep from the right side off Aaron Fultz, the ball just clearing the left-field wall and landing in the flower bed.
“He got a big one there to give us a cushion that stood up for us,” Robinson said.
Philadelphia scored more three more runs in the sixth on a sacrifice fly, an infield single and an RBI double from Howard that made it 8-7. Howard’s hit knocked high off the center-field wall, but Pat Burrell was waved home from first by third base coach Bill Dancy and thrown out at the plate to end the rally.
“It’s a judgment, timing thing,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “I’ll stand behind (Dancy) 100 percent. They had two good relay throws.”
The Phillies threatened again in the eighth, putting runners on first and third with no out against Majewski, but failed to score.
Drese was Texas’ opening-day starter and was 4-6 with a 6.46 ERA in 12 starts for the Rangers. He pitched eight innings in two of his first three starts for Washington, giving a needed and unexpected boost to the rotation.
Drese gave up six hits and struck out four in five-plus innings.
Fultz relieved Geoff Geary, who left the game after he fouled a ball into the dirt and it smashed straight up into his face, knocking off his helmet. Geary collapsed and left with his right eye shut, though not swollen. Geary was taken to a hospital for further evaluation. Pitcher Jon Lieber finished the at-bat with two strikes and took a called strike three. The strikeout was credited to Geary. … Washington 1B Nick Johnson and OF Ryan Church are scheduled to begin rehab assignments this weekend with Double-A Harrisburg. … Former Philadelphia player Marlon Byrd pinch hit in his first game against his former team and doubled, but he was thrown out at third trying to stretch the hit into a triple.