Philadelphia Phillies fans would likely simply brush off the idea of any true rivalry existing between the NL East winner in each of the last four seasons and the lowly Washington Nationals, who've finished out of last place in the division just once (4th!) since arriving in the nation's capital in 2005. In six seasons as the Nats, the franchise formerly known as the Montreal Expos is a combined 39-71 against the Phillies, with just one winning season against their "rivals" in 2006, when the Nationals took two of three in the final series of the season to win 10 of the 19 games the teams played.
Last season, however, the Nats were 6-12 against the Phillies, and they had to suffer through an Opening Day domintated by "Doc" Halladay-loving fans, had to have their hearts broken when their closer of the future blew a big lead on the road to their new right fielder and had to suffer through the final humilation of having Philadelphia clinch the division crown in Nationals Park in front of a boisterous out-of-town crowd that chanted, "This is our house," throughout the late-season game...
The Nationals struck a blow this winter when they signed Jayson Werth away from Philadelphia, but even that bold move was tarnished some by the overblown reaction to the fact that Washington wildly overpaid Werth in order to lure him south, providing Philly fans with an easy-enough reason to laugh off the loss of their hard-hitting right fielder. No one's laughing in the nation's capital. Since Werth signed, he's often compared the Nats now to the Phillies' roster he joined in 2007. In his introductory press conference at Nationals Park, the 31-year-old slugger said he looked forward to the challenge of facing his former team:
Jayson Werth: "If you're going to be the best, you've gotta beat the best and they make their plays and we're going to make ours and I think over the course of time you're going to see and the people of the city are going to see that the Washington Nationals are for real and they're going to bring the type of style of baseball that is going to bring championships to the city."
The sound you haar right now is a few thousand Philly fans laughing off the idea that the Washington Nationals can compete with their Phillies. No one is laughing in the nation's capital. Not after what they went through last season...
April 5, 2010 - Washington Nationals vs Philadelphia Phillies: An Opening Day crowd of 41,290 fans filed out of the "Bullpen" and out of the Navy Yard Metro stop down Half Street and into Nationals Park last April to watch the Washington Nationals take on the Philadelphia Phillies with President Obama throwing out the first pitch and former Blue Jays' ace Roy Halladay making his first start for the Phillies' after he'd been acquired in a deal that sent prospects to Toronto for the two-time Cy-Young-Award-winning right-hander who'd won 148 games over 12 seasons without ever making a playoff appearance.
Half of the fans in Nats Park were Philadelphia Phillies fans, or at least it felt like it walking to the park, squeezing into Metro cars and wandering the Park's concourse full of Philly cap-jersey-and name-an- # t-wearing Philly fans. With the Nationals up 1-0 after three, and Chase Utley on first after a leadoff walk, Ryan Howard hit a first-pitch curve from Nationals' Opening Day lefty John Lannan high over the out-of-town scoreboard into the right field seats for a two-run HR that put Philly up 2-1 over Washington and really got the fans from Philadelphia, who'd already booed the Nationals' introductions and Ryan Zimmerman's Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards ceremony, worked up. Roy Hallady shut the Nats down, allowing just one run on six hits. Miguel Batista gave up five runs on three hits, Jason Bergmann gave up a run, 11-1 Phillies win. Philly fans go home happy.
September 19, 2010 - STOREN WARNING!!: With Washington up 6-3 after eight and a half innings, '09 1st Round pick and potential future Nationals' closer Drew Storen allowed a leadoff single to Phillies' third baseman Placido Polanco to start the bottom of the ninth inning of the finale of the three-game Citizens Bank Park series last September. Chase Utley doubled into the left field corner, going all the way the other way with an 0-1 fastball from the 23-year-old righty and moving Polanco to third. Ryan Howard stepped up as the tying run and hit a line drive single to center to score two runs and get the Phillies within one at 6-5. Then Phillies' right fielder Jayson Werth worked the count full against Storen, fouled off a few and crushed a fastball that went out to center for a two-run walk-off HR to the deepest part of Citizens Bank Park to help the Phillies sweep Nats in three-straight.
September 27, 2010 - Citizens Bank South: 75% (or more) of the crowd in Nationals Park for the first game of three with the Phillies late last September was from Philadelphia or at least comprised of D.C.-based fans of the visiting team. Jayson Werth hit a solo HR to left off Nats' lefty John Lannan in the second to put the Phillies up 1-0 in a Nats Park full of what sounded like a raucous hometown Philly crowd. Raul Ibanez followed with a double off the left field wall which drew the "RAUUUUL" cheers out of the crowd and then the "Chooch" chants started up as Phillies' catcher Carlos Ruiz stepped to the plate.
A three-run sixth highlighted by Jayson Werth's two-run double off Lannan basically ended the game. "This is our house," [clap clap clapclapclap!] This is our house! [clap clap clapclapclap!]" The few Nationals fans that were left were appalled and when it ended they were treated to a quick onfield celebration when the Phillies officially clinched the NL East. Inside the visitor's clubhouse Werth, wearing goggles, poured champagne over "Doc" Halladay's head. The Philly fans refused to leave. Staying in the stands surrounding the visitor's dugout long after the lights when out in NatsTown.
The Nationals' season would end five games later, the Phillies would go on to sweep the Cincinnati Reds before losing to the eventual World Series champions from San Francisco. The Nationals surprised the baseball world by signing Werth on the eve of the Winter Meetings, agreeing on a 7-year/$126M dollar deal. The Phillies, who'd made an offer to Werth for far less than the Nationals put on the table, surprised the baseball world as the mystery team that swept in to sign Cliff Lee out from under everyone's noses. "They got their boy back, I guess," Werth said, "That’s fine. I think that’s good. I like that."
Later that evening, after the introductory press conferences, the Phillies' GM Ruben Amaro revealed in a tv interview that Werth sent a text message to his former boss in Philadelphia. "I got a long text message from him last night booing me, in classic Philly style. He was upset. But hey, that’s how it works sometimes. This is a business. Sometimes we have to make tough choices, as I said."
"Was he serious?" the show's host asked the Phillies' GM. "I think he was half kidding," Mr. Amaro responded. "We were joking back and forth. I told him he could still have been on our club if he accepted arbitration." Werth accepted $126M instead and took a chance that he can part of building the Nationals into a contender. Tuesday night he faces his former team for the first time. Livan Hernandez vs Joe Blanton. D.C. vs Philly. Nationals vs Phillies in Nationals Park. The first game of 2011 starts at 7:05 pm EDT.