WASHINGTON -- Year after year, the Nationals finished way behind the Phillies in the National League East standings -- and adding insult to general ineptitude, Washington's home games against Philadelphia sounded like road games, what with all the loud hecklers usually making the trip down I-95.
So now that the Nationals fancy their chances on the field, and undertook a massive effort known as "Take Back the Park" to keep Phillies fans out of the stands, the hosts ascribed a lot more meaning to the teams' first series of 2012 than the visitors.
When Friday night's opener ended with the last Nationals player on the bench, pinch hitter Wilson Ramos, delivering an RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the 11th inning to give Washington a 4-3 comeback victory over the Phillies, plenty of spectators stuck around to cheer and enjoy the moment.
Yes, this time, a minority of the crowd streamed to the exits while wearing Phillies jerseys and hats.
"It was very refreshing," Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond said. "It was nice, obviously, to have the crowd behind us tonight. I'd give it 70-30 (percent rooting for Washington), probably. But better than 20-80 the other way."
As part of a marketing campaign, the hosts put a makeshift banner reading "NATITUDE PARK" over where the stadium's real name is atop the scoreboard. They also made tickets available online only to season ticketholders and local fans from Washington, Maryland or Virginia.
It added up to an announced attendance of 34,377 -- more than 10,000 above Washington's average, which ranks 14th in the 16-team NL -- for a game filled with quirks. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was ejected in the bottom of the first for arguing about a checked swing, one that his catcher tried to appeal but couldn't because there was no umpire at third base (one member of the crew, Joe West, sat out the game with an illness).
The Phillies had other complaints, too, saying a ball hit by Carlos Ruiz in the seventh that was called foul should have been ruled fair ("I saw the replays," Ruiz said), and that Shane Victorino should have been called safe instead of out on an attempted steal of third later in that inning.
The Phillies are without Ryan Howard and Chase Utley; in their places Friday were Laynce Nix (a backup for Washington last season) and Pete Orr (once cut by the Nationals). Because of injuries, the Nationals are missing their preferred No. 3 hitter and slick-fielding third baseman (Ryan Zimmerman), their cleanup hitter (Michael Morse), their fill-in cleanup hitter (Adam LaRoche), their closer (Drew Storen) and their fill-in closer (Brad Lidge).
"We've been playing a man short for, it seems like, half the year," manager Davey Johnson said.
And yet this was Washington's fifth walk-off victory of the season, the most in the majors, according to STATS LLC. The Nationals improved to 4-2 in extra innings; the Phillies fell to 0-4.
"They kind of have a bigger feeling when you're playing the Phillies. I felt they were the best team in baseball last year. To come in and beat them the first time in our house ... it was a big game for us, and I'm sure the Phillies felt the same way, because we're sitting on top," Johnson said.
Well, maybe not. Asked whether this series is a chance for the Phillies to put the Nationals in their place, Victorino said: "Nah. This is just one game in the series. Just one of 162."
Still, since moving to Washington from Montreal, the Nationals never had even finished so much as third in the NL East until last season. Now they're atop the division at 17-9, while the Phillies are 13-14 and haven't been above .500 since starting the season 1-0.
Steve Lombardozzi started the winning rally against Michael Schwimer (0-1) by singling with two outs, and 19-year-old Bryce Harper drew his third walk of the game before Jayson Werth walked to load the bases.
That brought up Ramos, who hit a 1-2 slider to bring home Lombardozzi and set off a celebration, with his teammates streaming out of the dugout to greet him at first base. Someone smeared Ramos with shaving cream.
"Early in the game, I was sitting on the bench, eating sunflower seeds and talking to my teammates," Ramos said, describing life as a catcher given a day off.
When he was told to go bat, Ramos recalled, "I just take my batting gloves and (thought), 'OK, I'm the man. Go out and hit the ball hard.' "
And he did.
"I was freaking out," Lombardozzi said.
The Nationals trailed 3-1, but tied it with two RBIs from Jesus Flores, one on a sacrifice fly in the sixth, the other a double in the eighth.
Much earlier, Pence and Ruiz homered off Stephen Strasburg, who had gone 66 innings without letting a ball leave the yard. Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick gave up one run in five innings -- on Chad Tracy's solo shot -- to outdo Strasburg, who allowed three runs and three hits in six innings.
Strasburg entered the game having allowed only one homer to a right-handed batter in his career.
Now he's allowed three.
Just one of the oddities on this night, when there actually were more Washington fans than Philadelphia fans at Nationals Park.
Or Natitude Park.
"That's a crazy game. We only had three umpires. That was a wild game, but a good win," said Werth, who helped the Phillies win the World Series in 2008, a year the last-place Nationals lost more than 100 games. "It's a big series for us, no doubt."