Phillies’ relievers blow lead in 5-3 loss to Nationals in RFK’s last baseball game

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WASHINGTON (AP)—His club lost a game on the field and lost ground in the standings Sunday, yet Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel chose to look on the bright side: At least his top relievers got some rest for the stretch run.

The Washington Nationals, meanwhile, were thrilled to benefit from a bullpen blowup and beat the Phillies 5-3, a perfect send-off for the last major league game at RFK Stadium—and another chance to hurt a club fighting to make the playoffs.

“Definitely, our time is running out,” Manuel said. “Today’s game was a big one.”

Philadelphia entered having won nine of 10 games, but its loss, coupled with New York’s 7-6 victory at Florida in 11 innings, dropped the Phillies to 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets in the NL East. Philadelphia stayed a half-game behind wild-card leader San Diego, which lost 7-3 to Colorado.

“Every pitch, every inning, every at-bat is important,” Phillies second baseman Chase Utley said.

The Phillies get Monday off, then finish with six games at home, three with the Atlanta Braves and then three with the Nationals.

“The day off is very important—especially to our relief pitchers,” Manuel said.

He finally gave his top three ‘pen guys a rest Sunday, but it didn’t quite work out. Closer Brett Myers and setup men Tom Gordon and J.C. Romero all pitched the previous five days, so they were only going to be used if the Phillies led late.

Instead, Antonio Alfonseca and Geoff Geary came in when Cole Hamels was finished, and the Phillies failed to finish off a sweep.

Hamels made only his second start since being on the disabled list with a strained pitching elbow, and he was removed after 74 pitches, with Philadelphia ahead 2-1. He gave up a run on two hits and a walk in the first inning. His line the rest of the way? Four innings, zero runs, zero hits, six strikeouts.

When Hamels was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the sixth, Manuel said the decision was an easy one. No need even to consult the All-Star lefty.

“We had it set up pretty good,” the manager said.

Hamels’ take?

“I definitely had 10 or 15 more pitches in me,” he said, adding that he didn’t feel it was his place to argue about being removed. “I know my body better than anybody else. That’s the whole point of asking.”

The Nationals went right to work on Alfonseca (5-2).

D’Angelo Jimenez led off with a double and took third when right fielder Jayson Werth failed to pick up the ball cleanly, drawing an error. A walk and an out later, Austin Kearns grounded a single up the middle to tie the game at 2. Alfonseca walked another batter to load the bases, and was lifted in favor of Geary.

How did Geary fare? He hit the first batter he faced, rookie Jesus Flores, to force in a run and put Washington ahead 3-2. Flores left the game with a bruised left elbow and was listed as day to day.

“That’s probably the most beneficial hit-by-pitch he has gotten in his short career,” Nationals manager Manny Acta said.

At least Geary didn’t do any more damage. Pinch-hitter Ryan Church swung at the first pitch, grounding into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. Kyle Lohse made his first relief appearance of the season, throwing a perfect seventh, before Kane Davis allowed two more runs in the eighth.

Still, no regrets for Manuel, whose 2005 and 2006 Phillies clubs barely missed the playoffs.

“We couldn’t hold them,” he said. “We’ll bounce back.”

For quite some time, the Nationals’ season has been about more modest goals, such as trying to play .500 ball each month or trying to avoid a fourth consecutive last-place finish.

On Sunday, the goal was a victory to say goodbye to their fans for this season and to this stadium forever.

The ballpark hosted the Senators from 1962-71, and has been the Nationals’ home since they moved from Montreal and brought baseball back to the nation’s capital in 2005. The occasion drew a crowd of 40,519—the Nationals’ largest this season—who got to cheer the club’s 122nd win over three years at RFK, against 121 losses.

“All these people didn’t show up to every game. Today was a very special day for them, and I could tell. They stuck around for everything,” Acta said.

He was referring to the postgame ceremonies, when fans were given game-worn jerseys, before Acta and team owner Ted Lerner helped dig out home plate, which will be taken a few miles away to what is being called Nationals Park until the naming rights are sold.

And Acta was referring to the game’s tenuous finish, when closer Chad Cordero allowed a run and put two other men on before striking out Werth with the ol’ ballpark’s final pitch to complete his 36th save.

“You don’t want to leave RFK on a bad note,” Cordero said. “To be able to go out there and get this win, it really means a lot to us.”

Notes

Luis Ayala (2-2) earned the win. … Phillies 1B Ryan Howard tied the major league record for strikeouts in a season, getting rung up for the 195th time in the fourth inning. … The stadium was originally called D.C. Stadium, but was renamed in honor of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in 1969. His daughter, Courtney, attended Sunday’s game.

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