WASHINGTON - Jayson Werth took a few steps up the first-base line and watched the ball fly. He flipped his black bat toward the Nationals dugout as the Vance Worley fastball landed in the Phillies bullpen. In one moment, the bearded outfielder ignited cheers and boos from a divided crowd.
The Nationals believe they have carved a new existence in the National League East, an idea they furthered with a 7-1 victory Saturday. Whether true or not, some relics will always remain: When Werth trotted to right field in the first inning, he was booed lustily by visiting Phillies fans. Werth doffed his cap in jest, and then delivered the ultimate silencer four innings later.
Under the bright lights of Sunday night baseball, which comes to the nation's capital for the first time in four years, the Nationals can sweep the Phillies. And even if they don't, the last two days have done nothing to diminish their confidence.
"It feels like they have a chip on their shoulder," Hunter Pence said.
These Phillies, meanwhile, will continue to rely on the experience of five straight division titles. Often tested in the season's first 28 games, they trail Washington by 51/2 games in a quest to tread water until reinforcements arrive.
Then again, reality is harsh. The Phillies have been outhit, 29-9, in two days by a Washington lineup missing its own mashers in Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, and Michael Morse. Journeyman Chad Tracy, pitcher-turned- outfielder Rick Ankiel, and rookie Steve Lombardozzi are 17 for 27 with six runs scored, two home runs, and four doubles in this series.
"I think they have a lot of confidence," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "They have guys hitting who weren't hitting when we came in here. . . . All of a sudden they get hot. The last two days, they've been crushing us."
The Nationals have won seven straight over the Phillies dating back to last season. It's their longest streak of dominance since 1989, back in the days of the Montreal Expos.
This one was over in the fifth on Werth's majestic swing. Worley threw a first-pitch slider called a ball on the outside edge. He countered with an inside fastball.
"He just beat me," Worley said. "I tried to go in and that was probably the best inside pitch I gave him, and he beat me."
Werth had made eight outs in his previous seven at-bats, failure that allowed the Phillies to actually pitch around 19-year-old Bryce Harper. Finally, Werth made his former team pay.
It was plenty of support for former Phillies farmhand Gio Gonzalez, who pelted the strike zone. He threw 77 of his 107 pitches for strikes and allowed a run only on a Carlos Ruiz sacrifice fly.
The Phillies are 2-6 against lefthanded starters in 2012 and have scored only eight runs in 461/3 innings against those pitchers. Manuel loaded his lineup with nine righthanded hitters Saturday and it mattered little.
It was the pitcher, Gonzalez, who ignited the critical fifth-inning rally. Just 1 for 16 lifetime as a hitter, Gonzalez rocked the ninth pitch Worley threw him deep to center for a double - his first career extra-base hit. The inning devolved from there.
"It bothered me, but he had a good at-bat," Worley said.
"They started making him stand out there longer," Manuel said. "They started wearing on him."
Washington had 13 baserunners against Worley in six innings and scored five runs. In two days, the Nationals have proven competent foes.
"All we're doing right now is reaffirming that we can play with them," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "They're shorthanded, we're shorthanded, probably more so than them. But we can still compete with them, and I think that's a good message to send."
When it ended, the Nationals did not dance like they did Friday. The message "OUR PARK" again flashed on the giant scoreboard. And it was no longer a novelty.