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CHICO SILENCES PHILS FANS

[September 30th] -- The Nationals did something that they haven't done since moving to Washington on Saturday; they won a game in the season's final series. they were swept by the Phillies in 2005, and by the Mets last year. Their 4-2 win was even on national TV (we in the West were supposed to watch the Padres - Brewers game, but Fox nixed that broadcast once the Brewers were eliminated from the playoffs).

So - for the first time this year - I got to watch the Nationals on TV and not on my computer.

And I am so proud of the job they did. I wasn't sure if Friday night's 6-0 loss to the Phillies was the result of a letdown following the Mets' series or a well pitched game by Cole Hamels. No question, it was all Hamels.

Now, I'm sure that the Phillies fans looked at Matt Chico's ERA and thought Saturday's game was in the bag. After all, his 6-9, 4.75 record looked ripe for the picking. What they didn't realize, however, is that Chico isn't the same pitcher since returning from Columbus earlier this month. Without question, he's been the team's best pitcher in September. Chico pitched 6 innings against the Phillies, allowing just 4 hits and 1 run. Take a look at the night-and-day difference between his six starts since returning versus his last six starts before being sent down:

Since September 2nd:

IP: 34 -- H: 36 -- ER: 13 -- HR: 3 -- BB: 9 -- K: 19 -- ERA: 3.44

July 19th - August 17th:

IP: 30 -- H: 37 -- ER: 21 -- HR: 7 -- BB: 22 -- K: 19 -- ERA: 6.30

The difference is stunning. A shortened leg kick has allowed Chico to regain control over his pitches. Fewer runners equals fewer runs. Before he was sent to Columbus, Chico was averaging almost 2 baserunners per inning. Since his return, he's allowing just 1.3 baserunners per inning. To be able to cut his walks by 60% says a lot about Matt Chico's determination. He's guaranteed himself a spot in next year's rotation and we're now seeing what Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo knew was there all along. And remember, Chico wasn't the main man in the Livan Hernandez trade. Garrett Mock was considered the much better pitcher.

It was a wonderful game, but a game we might not have won had it not been for Ryan Howard's miscue at first. Have you ever seen anything like that before? The ball skittered off his glove and into foul territory, but he never noticed. He reached into his glove for the ball so he could nail Felipe Lopez at home, only to realize that he didn't have it. That mistake, plus Carlos Ruiz's bad throw into center, gave the Nationals the win. Phillies' fans must be muttering about "what might have been."


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