WASHINGTON — The other perspective was this: Cole Hamels wouldn't have plunked a Nationals hitter if the team was irrelevant.
That's what the first-place Nationals took from Sunday's 9-3 Phillies victory that salvaged a weekend series. The Phillies trained home still in last place. Washington awoke in first but with the reality of replacing another injured star, Jayson Werth.
After crushing the Phillies, 7-1, on Saturday, the Nationals spoke with great confidence. "You're already seeing it," reliever Tyler Clippard told reporters Saturday. "Even before we played them, they were chasing us. It's already changed. These first few games have been a good indicator of that."
Shorstop Ian Desmond took it a step further Sunday: The Phillies are worried about the Nationals.
"Usually, it seems that the Phillies aren't that hyped up to come play us," Desmond said. "I think they realized that they needed to step up a little bit, and that's nice. It's nice to have that feeling of, 'Hey, they're intense over there.' Usually when we play them, they're not. And I think they realize we've got a good ballclub, and they needed to kind of take it up a notch."
Both teams, obviously, are playing with depleted lineups. Washington defeated the Phillies' fourth and sixth starters. They won Friday thanks to two blantantly incorrect calls because of a shortened umpiring crew.
Fifteen games remain in this season series. The first-place Nationals are a confident bunch.
The Phillies guaranteed victory Sunday with a six-run ninth inning. Washington mounted a mini rally in the bottom half but fell well short.
"I think," Desmond said, "they were still worried."