Just a few weeks back, the Phillies had swept a three game series against the Atlanta Braves and taken the first two games against the St. Louis Cardinals. It was their first, and to this point, only, five-game win streak of the season. While most fans knew it didn't particularly signal a playoff push for Philadelphia, everyone could at least smile knowing their team could at least string together some success. Since then, however, the Phillies had gone 3-13 before their series against Milwaukee. The trade rumors swirled once more, and that smile was quickly pushed away. Heading into a series against the team with the National League's best record, many heads were left down or shaking. Surprisingly (because there is no better way to put it), the Phillies managed to sweep the four game set on the road, ending their road trip at 5-5. Now, the team was heading back home to take on division foe Washington with a chance to piece together their second five-game winning streak of the 2014 campaign.
The Game: Scoring for the Phillies commenced in the second inning, where they'd put two on the board in support of starting pitcher A.J. Burnett. Ryan Howard was set down on strikes by Nationals' starter Jordan Zimmermann to start the frame, but Marlon Byrd picked him up with a one out single. A second single off of Cody Asche's bat put the team in business. Amidst a disappointing season, Domonic Brown continued his modest streak of hitting in his at bat. With Byrd and Asche on base, Brown collected a twin RBI double into center field, handing Philadelphia a 2-0 lead.
After what felt like months of speculation and whisper, Grady Sizemore finally made his major league debut with the Phillies. He had spent just a few weeks in the minor league system, and was brought in to replace David Buchanan on the roster, with the anticipation of Cliff Lee returning post-All-Star Break. Fittingly, he'd play a role in the Phillies scoring performance tonight. In the third, Sizemore led off with a single, his first hit with his new ballclub. He'd be followed swiftly by Jimmy Rollins, who mustered up the power to record his tenth home run of the season. It moved the Philly lead to 4-0.
Meanwhile, A.J. Burnett was dominating the Nationals, setting batters down one after another. Despite giving up four walks, a common issue for the veteran this season, Burnett managed to work in six strikeouts to hold the Nats down. His biggest mistake came in the seventh inning with Bryce Harper at the plate. On just the second pitch of the first at bat of that inning, Harper lined a 1-0 sinker into the right field seats for just his second home run of the season. It ended the shutout, but did not ruin Burnett's performance.
In the eighth, Burnett would collect two outs, but surrendered a pair of walks to complete his night. Manager Ryne Sandberg chose to go get Ken Giles out of the pen to finish the inning. He gave up a double to Ryan Zimmerman, which tacked on an extra run to Burnett's line, but finished the frame in the next at bat. A.J.'s final line read 7.2 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, and 6 Ks.
In support of the outstanding pitching, the Phillies offense tacked on a couple of late runs. Cameron Rupp broke through with an RBI double in the sixth, and Jimmy Rollins homered again in the seventh for the Phillies sixth and final run. That home run was Rollins' first multi-home run performance since August of 2012, and the ninth such game of his career. It also tied him with Del Ennis on the Phillies all-time double-digit home run season list with eleven.
Ken Giles would go on to work a 1-2-3 ninth inning, closing out the Phillies 6-2 victory, their fifth in a row. Their record now stands at 42-51.
Impact: Should the Phils take either of the next two games against these Nationals, you can count on plenty of talk, at least amongst fans, of the returning chance at a playoff run. While I don't personally condone it, I will say it is necessary to enjoy these games. If things go the way they should, this team will look very different twenty days from now, and a couple of the heroes we have come to love in red pin stripes will be no more.
Up Next: Cole Hamels will make his final start in a Phillies uniform before the All-Star Break in a battle with the Nationals and Stephen Strasburg. That game is set to get underway at 7:15 PM Eastern.
Andrew Gillen, Managing Editor of Philliedelphia.com