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Phillies beat Nats, keep wild-card hopes alive

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Play a game, try to win, then go watch TV and
root, root, root.

That's what the Philadelphia Phillies are going through in the
season's final weekend. They held on to beat the Washington
Nationals 4-3 Friday night behind Ryan Howard's 21st homer and Cory
Lidle's solid start, then settled in to see the end of Houston's
loss, which allowed Philadelphia to close within one game in the NL
wild-card standings.

"Things are getting a little bit tighter," Phillies manager
Charlie Manuel said. "We have two games left to play and, yeah,
there is some pressure there, but we can handle it."

Closer Billy Wagner gave up a run in the bottom of the ninth
before stranding the potential tying run on third for his 37th
save, and the Phillies hurried off to the visiting clubhouse at RFK
Stadium to see what was happening in Houston.

Between bites of food, they saw the Astros waste a ninth-inning
lead and fall 4-3 to the Chicago Cubs.

Yells of "Yeah!" came from Philadelphia players with each
negative development for Houston. Shouts of "Come on!" followed
good things for the Astros. And a collective whoop greeted the
final out.

"We played 160 games to have a chance to get to the playoffs,
and the next two ballgames will be the most important games of the
whole year," said Wagner, who got his first save of more than
three outs since June 5. "We're watching the scoreboard. We need
help right now to get into the playoffs."

If the Phillies (86-74) and Astros (87-73) finish the regular
season in a tie, they would meet in a one-game playoff Monday at
Philadelphia.

The Nationals wouldn't mind keeping NL East rival Philadelphia
out of the postseason.

"We know what they're trying to get after," Washington's Jamey
Carroll said, "and we want to keep them from that."

Four Phillies had two hits apiece, including Jimmy Rollins, who
stretched his hitting streak to 34 games by leading off the third
with a flare to shallow left field. He swiped second for his 40th
steal of the season -- he later added No. 41 -- and scored on Chase
Utley's single. Utley came around to make it 3-1 on Pat Burrell's
double.

Howard was responsible for Philadelphia's first run, a solo shot
to right off Livan Hernandez (15-10) in the second inning. Howard
leads major league rookies in homers, and no Phillies rookie has
hit more than 21 since Willie Montanez finished with 30 in 1971.

Lidle (13-11) improved to 6-0 in his career against the
Expos-Nationals, allowing two runs -- only one earned -- and six hits
in 6 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts. He gave up Preston Wilson's
RBI groundout in the first inning, and another run when shortstop
Rollins made a throwing error in the fourth.

Lidle left with two on and two outs in the seventh, replaced by
Ugueth Urbina, who loaded the bases with a walk to Brad Wilkerson.
Carroll hit a grounder that second baseman Utley slid to stop, then
flipped to Rollins for the force at second.

After Urbina put runners on first and second with two outs in
the eighth, Wagner came on and struck out Cristian Guzman on three
pitches. In the ninth, Wagner gave up a double, hit Wilkerson with
a pitch, and allowed Carroll's RBI groundout before ending the game
on Nick Johnson's popup.

Hernandez allowed four runs and 10 hits in seven innings. He
threw 130 pitches and raised his innings total to an NL-high 246
1-3. Hernandez led the league in that category each of the past two
years.

The right-hander is scheduled to have surgery Wednesday on the
right knee that's hampered him much of the season.

"It's not easy to pitch with a knee like that," Hernandez
said, "and I finished the year."

Game notes
Saturday's Philadelphia-Washington game was switched to a
4:10 p.m. start from the originally scheduled 7:05 p.m. because Fox
is broadcasting it. ... The Phillies are 15-6 when Howard homers.
... Rollins' hitting streak is the longest in the majors since
Florida's Luis Castillo hit in 35 consecutive games in 2002.