WASHINGTON - OK, it would be a much better story if Greg Dobbs had milked it a little more. We're talking Kirk Gibson, I-don't-believe-what-I-just-saw milking it. And, come to think of it, it would be a better story if Dobbs had hit a home run and ran around the bases pumping his fist, and if the lights at Nationals Park had exploded, and if corny theme music had started playing.
In the end, it was just a little back pain, and a little, pinch-hit bloop single that fell in front of the centerfielder and scored a runner from third.
But for a team that had lost three straight games and was facing the prospect of losing its second series of the season to the Nationals, it was big.
"To even it up is huge," said Dobbs, who shook off a tight back that has hampered him the past 2 days to hit an RBI single with one out in the ninth, lifting the Phillies to a 1-0 win.
It was huge, because for eight innings, the Phillies looked as if they would spoil another great effort by lefthander Cole Hamels. In April, Hamels allowed one run in eight innings against the Nationals, but took the loss after the Phillies managed only one hit off of Washington righthander Tim Redding. Last night, they had only five hits off of righthander Jason Bergmann, and the game was still scoreless when he and Hamels left the mound after the seventh.
Hamels struck out 11 and allowed only four hits while running his scoreless-innings streak to a career-high 19. He wasn't as efficient as his shutout 5 days ago against the Braves, throwing 110 pitches in seven innings this time, but he was just as effective.
He had a strikeout in every inning, and struck out the side in the fifth. The only inning that gave him any trouble was the fourth, when he gave up back-to-back singles to Ryan Zimmerman and Dmitri Young.
But with men on first and third and one out, he struck out Washington catcher Jesus Flores, then coaxed Wily Mo Pena into a flyout to end the frame.
"It's just one of those things where I keep going out there and attack the hitters," said Hamels, who picked up a no-decision but saw his ERA fall to 2.61. "When you are able to attack hitters and throw strikes, I think it puts more pressure on a hitter to really put the ball in play. I really haven't gone out there and been trying to take all the plays on myself, just because I do have those eight guys behind me, and with the tremendous fielding that we have, I'm out there throwing strikes and wanting them to hit the ball, so I can get in and out of the inning pretty quick."
Fielding wasn't a problem last night. For the second straight night, though, hitting was. After going 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position in a 4-0 loss Monday night, the Phillies had only two runners in scoring position in the first six innings before leaving the bases loaded in the seventh.
But Hamels and setup man Tom Gordon, who pitched a scoreless eighth, kept the Nationals in check, so the offense had a chance to break out of its slump in the ninth.
Third baseman Pedro Feliz, who struggled at the plate Monday night, doubled down the leftfield line to lead off the inning. Pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Carlos Ruiz.
That brought Dobbs to the plate to pinch-hit for Gordon. The lefthanded-hitting utility man has thrived in this situation this season. He entered the game hitting .429 with nine RBI as a pinch-hitter, and improved both of those numbers against Washington closer Jon Rauch.
Dobbs tweaked his back 2 days ago while reaching down to field a grounder during batting practice and has kept his upper torso heavily iced throughout the first two games of this series. He spent much of last night moving around and attempting to keep his back loose, heading to the cage to take some swings in the third inning, earlier than he would on most nights.
"Early on, it was very tight," Dobbs said, "but it was a lot better than [Monday]."
After taking two balls from Rauch, Dobbs swung at what he thinks was a slider and lifted it into centerfield, where it dropped in for a single, easily scoring the winning run.
"I'm just happy we were able to pull it off in the end," Hamels said.
Granted, the Phillies know they need a better performance from their offense most times Hamels isn't pitching. Before the game, manager Charlie Manuel said the team needed to do a better job of manufacturing runs.
Last night, they did it once.
"We manufactured a run, didn't we?" Manuel said.
Hey, it's a start. *