WASHINGTON -- The Philadelphia Phillies may be out of the playoff race, but interim manager Ryne Sandberg relishes the intense opportunities that his players faced here on Saturday night against the Washington Nationals.
"From the seventh inning, it was high-pressure situations for everybody on the field," Sandberg said after his team weathered a late rally to beat the Nationals 5-4. "You could feel that on the field. It is all, good meaningful games."
One of those moments came in the last of the ninth after Ryan Zimmerman led off with a double against closer Jonathan Papelbon. He then retired Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond before Sandberg decided to give an intentional walk to Bryce Harper -- the potential winning run -- in order to face hot-hitting Wilson Ramos.
"Just the best matchup," Sandberg said. Ramos has five homers in the last 11 games.
"Make sure we feel comfortable facing Ramos," Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz said about the meeting at the mound. "We were on the same page."
After Harper took first, Papelbon (27 saves) got Ramos to hit a hard one-hopper to Jimmy Rollins at short. Rollins stayed back on the ball and took his time to throw out the slow Ramos at first to end the game.
It was a crippling loss for the Nationals (78-70), who saw their seven-game winning streak end as they fell 5 1/2 games back of the Cincinnati Reds for the second wild card spot.
"Any time you lose, you are frustrated. We need wins. We can't lose many more. We left some opportunities to win (out there) tonight," said Washington center fielder Denard Span, who had three hits.
Span, who extended his hitting streak to a career-high 25 games, had a good feeling when Zimmerman led off the ninth with a double.
"I definitely for sure thought we would tie it up and go home in the ninth" with a win, he said.
But it was not to be, hours after the Reds beat Milwaukee.
"We're still fine, we've just got to win the games," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "Just got to keep winning. Need to win tomorrow, and the next day, and on down the road. Send a message to Atlanta when they come in. It was interesting. But the outcome wasn't what we wanted."
Starting pitcher Cole Hamels continued his mastery of Washington and batterymate Ruiz hit a three-run double in the fifth for the Phillies.
The Phillies are now 15-3 in the last 18 starts that Hamels (8-13) has made against Washington and the left-hander is 11-3 in those.
Hamels pitched six innings and gave up three earned runs. He was taken out with the bases loaded and no outs in the seventh.
Washington starter Gio Gonzalez (10-7) struggled with his location and gave up nine hits and four earned runs before he was lifted after six innings for rookie Ian Krol.
Philadelphia loaded the bases in the fifth and Ruiz came through with a three-run double to right field to clear the bases for a 4-1 lead. That gave Ruiz 14 hits in his last 24 at-bats with runners in scoring position, with 19 RBIs.
The Nationals scored three in the seventh to make it 5-4, but Ramos was called out on strikes on a curve by Cesar Jimenez that appeared to be inside to end the threat.
"He knew he missed it. But that's part of baseball," Johnson said of home plate umpire and crew chief Jim Joyce. "You know, but we had a lot of chances and had the right guys up, and we battled back and I was proud of them battling back."
NOTES: Ramos, who was on the disabled list earlier in the year, made his 22nd start in a row behind the plate. "I am happy to be back. I am working very hard. I want to go to the playoffs," said Ramos, who was injured last season when the Nationals made their drive to the NL East title. ... Zimmerman had throwing problems early in the year, but his defense has been strong of late, and Harper threw out two runners at second in Friday's game. "It is still a very good fielding team. I love our defense," Johnson said. ... The Phillies entered Saturday with a road record of 27-45, the sixth-worst mark in the majors. ... Tyler Cloyd (2-4, 4.56 ERA) will get the start for Philadelphia in the series finale on Sunday. He gave up nine hits and seven runs in four-plus innings in his last start on Tuesday against the San Diego Padres. Jordan Zimmermann (17-8, 3.36) will pitch for Washington.