Phillies continue march
They move closer to NL East title
PHILADELPHIA - One mighty swing by Ryan Howard got the Philadelphia Phillies going again. One more win will have them partying.
Howard hit his major league-leading 48th homer, Joe Blanton pitched six effective innings, and the Phillies moved closer to clinching the NL East title with an 8-4 victory over the Washington Nationals last night.
The Phillies' magic number for winning their second straight division championship was reduced to 1 after the New York Mets lost, 6-1, to the Florida Marlins.
"I like our position," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I'll like it better when we're up two with one to play. That's when I'll drink champagne, dance, and sing."
Chase Utley had a three-run double and Howard drove in four runs as Philadelphia built a 7-1 lead off Collin Balester (3-7).
"We knew what needed to be done and took care of our own business," Howard said. "We have everything in our own hands right now."
The Nationals chipped away against Blanton (4-0), but four relievers combined to toss three scoreless innings.
The Phillies reached 90 wins for the 12th time in the franchise's 126-year history. They hadn't done it since winning 97 games in 1993.
Washington lost its 100th game, the first time the franchise has lost that many games since the Montreal Expos were 55-107 in 1976.
"A loss is a loss to me," manager Manny Acta said. "Once you lose over 90, it's one too many."
Blanton allowed four runs - one earned - and five hits. The righthander was 5-12 with Oakland before joining the Phillies in a midseason trade.
Jayson Werth and Utley hit one-out singles in the first to bring up Howard. The 2006 NL MVP drove an 0-and-1 pitch into Philadelphia's bullpen.
Howard is batting .349 (29 for 83) with 11 homers and 32 of his major league-best 146 RBIs this month. He has raised his average to .250 and is making a strong push to win his second MVP award in three years.
The Phillies chased Balester with four two-out runs in the second inning to take a 7-1 lead.
Greg Dobbs led off with a double. Jimmy Rollins walked with two outs and Werth reached on an infield single to load the bases. Utley missed a slam by a few feet, clearing the bases with a double off the left-field wall. Howard followed with an RBI double to left.
The Nationals scored a pair of unearned runs in the fifth after Howard booted Pete Orr's grounder with one out. Emilio Bonifacio had a sacrifice fly and Cristian Guzman singled in a run to cut it to 7-3.
Kory Casto hit a solo homer in the sixth to get the Nationals within 7-4. Umpires used instant replay to make sure the ball cleared the right-field wall before it fell onto the field after a fan dropped it.
Balester allowed seven runs and seven hits in 1 2/3 innings.