“With one of the highest-paid cheering galleries in the majors watching from the bench, Wilson Valdez knew what he needed to do.
Ten innings earlier, Ryan Howard had become the latest casualty in a hard-luck season when he stepped on second base, rolled his ankle and limped off the field. Already out of commission were second baseman Chase Utley (sprained thumb), centerfielder Shane Victorino (strained oblique) and leftfielder Raul Ibanez (sore wrist). With the game tied in the top of the 11th and the Phillies trying to avoid a sweep at the hand of the lowly Nationals, Valdez’ goal was simple as he led off.
“You have to make sure that you get on base in that situation,” the utility man said.
Valdez did just that, dropping down a bunt and diving safely into first base to put himself in position to score the go-ahead run on a single by Placido Polanco.
Jayson Werth’s double pushed another run home, and Brad Lidge pitched a perfect 11th as the Phillies escaped the nation’s capital with a 6-4 win.
“He practices that a lot,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “As a matter of fact, he practices that about every day. He practices that with his hitting . . . He does a good job. That’s good baseball. That’s a smart play.”
The win, coupled with Atlanta’s loss in Cincinnati, brought the Phillies within 2 1/2 games of the NL East-leading Braves. It was the type of win a team needs when it is trying to come from behind to make the postseason.
The Phillies‘ first two runs were driven in by a pair of reserves as RBI singles by Ben Francisco and rookie Domonic Brown gave the Phillies a 2-0 lead in the first inning. The go-ahead run in the 11th moved into scoring position on a bunt by newly acquired righthander Roy Oswalt, who was 7-for-9 in sacrifice opportunities when Manuel called on him to pinch hit. Polanco, one of four healthy starters, drove in two runs and scored two more while going 3-for-6.
And Lidge, who the night before had allowed a three-run homer to Ryan Zimmerman for his fourth blown save, bounced back to shut down the Nationals in order for his 11th save.
“It’s something where we’re going to have to step it up big time, because this isn’t going to be the season where everything goes perfectly and everybody can shine,” said Hamels, who left after the seventh with the score tied, 4-4. “This is the type of season where guys are going to have to gut it out.”
They might not have to gut it out too long without Howard, despite what looked to be an ugly injury in the first inning. The first baseman rolled his ankle when stepping on second base on Francisco’s RBI single, then fell to the dirt in obvious pain. He stayed down in the dirt for several moments, and eventually limped off with help from Manuel and athletic trainer Mark Andersen. But X-rays were negative, and Manuel said later he did not think Howard would have to go to the disabled list. Howard’s opinion was less definite, although he said he hoped to miss only “a couple of days.”
With the first baseman on the bench, the Phillies were unable to add to their 2-0 lead. Hamels looked sharp, striking out 10 and walking none, but two of the six hits he allowed were a two-run double to Ryan Zimmerman in the fourth and a two-run homer to Adam Dunn in the sixth that gave the Nationals a 4-2 lead.”
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