WASHINGTON -- Wearing a tie-dye shirt and shorts before batting practice here the other day, Rhys Hoskins looked like he was bracing for a Grateful Dead concert rather than another night in a tightly contested race for the National League East crown.
But with 54 games left in this long, strange trip of a Phillies season, the slugging first baseman left no doubt about the vibe in the clubhouse.
“I know the feeling in there is that it’s there for the taking,” Hoskins said. “If we play and we can stay healthy, we feel like we’re the best team in this division and there’s no reason we can’t win this division if we can get guys to stay on the field.”
Hoskins returned this week after missing three games with a groin injury but his swing intact. And after the Phillies fell behind by three runs early Wednesday night, he delivered a go-ahead RBI double in the third inning and a two-run homer in the fifth to fuel a 9-5 win over the rebuilding-before-everyone’s-eyes Washington Nationals.
Make it four consecutive victories for the Phillies, one shy of tying their season-long winning streak, after back-to-back flat losses in Pittsburgh. They also stayed 1 1/2 games behind the frontrunning New York Mets, who snapped a three-game skid with a 5-3 victory in Miami.
Another victory Thursday, with Aaron Nola on the mound, would complete a rare four-game sweep -- on the road, no less -- and send the Phillies into a first-place showdown with the Mets at Citizens Bank Park beginning Friday night.
Trailing 3-0 in the third inning after Chase Anderson allowed three solo home runs, the Phillies roared back with five hits, including four doubles, against Nationals starter Paolo Espino. It began with Andrew Knapp and continued with RBI doubles by Travis Jankowski and Jean Segura and a game-tying single by Bryce Harper.
Up stepped Hoskins, who a few days earlier stressed the need for other players to fill the middle-of-the-order void created by Andrew McCutchen’s absence with a knee injury. Back in the cleanup spot, Hoskins got ahead in the count and stroked a double that one-hopped the right-field fence and scored Harper from first base to open a 4-3 lead.
“Rhys is a constant,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He fights through everything, he goes through his struggles and he never gives up. He keeps working. He’s the same guy every day. He’s leading our team in home runs and RBIs, and we wouldn’t be here without him either.”
Hoskins’ homer made it 6-3 before struggling Didi Gregorius took his best swing in weeks for a two-run homer that stretched the margin to 8-3.
The Phillies have been here before. They were in contention for a wild-card berth in 2018 and 2019 but fell short after dismal Septembers. Last year, they dropped seven of their last eight games and missed the playoffs in an expanded field.
Can they close the deal this time over the final eight weeks of the season?
“This is a pressure-packed industry, it’s a pressure-packed sport,” Hoskins said. “The closer you get to Game 162 of 162 there’s naturally going to be more pressure, especially if you’re in the middle of a race. I think we have some more familiarity with going through it last year. But it’s go time. We’re right in this thing.”
More from Moore
Biggest out of the game? Easy. Left-hander Matt Moore came on with two on, two out, and the Phillies leading by three runs in the fifth inning and got ever-dangerous Juan Soto to roll out to second base on a 96-mph fastball.
“Wow, he was really, really good tonight,” Girardi said. “He picked us up big-time. Getting Soto out that first time was a huge out, and then, that’s as good as I’ve seen him throw the ball.”
Making his first appearance out of the bullpen since losing his spot in the starting rotation last weekend, Moore stayed in the game and got 12 outs. He might have finished it, too, if he hadn’t given up a run in the ninth, paving the way for new closer Ian Kennedy.
Moore averaged 94.6 mph on his fastball, a notable jump from his 92.1 mph season average. He said he was “trying to get a little more out of each pitch” rather than pacing himself as a starter. He also credited reliever Brandon Kintzler, who was released by the Phillies this week after being designated for assignment, for helping him fix his mechanics.
It hardly seems possible given his stature in the sport, but Harper is making an under-the-radar bid to get into the MVP race.
Harper finished with three hits and is 35-for-89 (.393) with 17 doubles, three homers, and 14 RBIs over his last 26 games. In his last 13 games, he has reached base in 33 of his 53 plate appearances.
Even though Anderson was making his first major-league start since May 16, Girardi said he would allow him to throw as many as 100 pitches. Instead, he hooked him after 55.
Anderson gave up home runs to three of the first eight batters (Victor Robles, Garcia, and Carter Kieboom), but didn’t allow any other hits and retired the final six batters that he faced.