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Party-crashing Phillies aren't going anywhere

WASHINGTON -- There was a DJ in the Washington Nationals pregame clubhouse.

Not clubhouse DJ Gio Gonzalez, but like, a real DJ. With a turntable and speakers and lights and everything. Because that's how Davey Martinez rolls.

"I just wanted to bring one in," said Washington's manager before his team's series opener against the division rival Philadelphia Phillies. "It is Friday."

Consciously or not, the former big league outfielder was paraphrasing the lyrics to Zhane's "Hey Mr. D.J.," the 90's dance hit that dropped smack dab in the middle of his playing career. If you've never had the listening pleasure or don't remember the hook, it goes a little something like this:

It's Friday night and the weekend's here,

I need to unwind, where's the party, Mr. DJ?

For the record, the DJ was some guy named Mark Maskell, and the party was supposed to be in the home clubhouse. But the visitors crashed it -- hard.

In the opener of a three-game set in D.C., the Phillies trounced the Nationals 12-2, in the process leapfrogging them for second place in the NL East. Philly is now 8-3 in its past 11 games, while Washington is 3-8 in its past 11. Even though the division rivals will square off twice more this weekend, not to mention 13 more times after that, and even though there's over half a season still left to play, the upstart Phils sent a clear message on what turned out to be a Freaky Friday: They're not planning on going away anytime soon.

"At this point, I think in a lot of ways, we've proven ourselves," said first-year manager Gabe Kapler, whose club lost 7 of 8 to start the month but has since rebounded with three straight series wins against the Rockies, Brewers and Cardinals. "We're a pretty good ball club. We've gone toe-to-toe with some of the best teams in the league and done a pretty good job. At some point, it stops being that we're trying to prove ourselves, and we're just competing with really good teams, and I think that's where we are."

They're there far sooner than anyone thought they'd be. With a rookie skipper and a roster loaded with young talent -- their average Opening Day age was 26.9, lowest in MLB -- the Phillies came into the season trending in the right direction but weren't expected to be serious contenders. Not yet, anyway. But a surprising start (they won 14 of their first 21 games) and a surprising starting five have helped them remain firmly in the playoff conversation. Led by breakout Cy Young candidate Aaron Nola and last-minute, free-agent signing Jake Arrieta, the rotation has exceeded expectations, working to a 3.82 ERA that ranks sixth in the National League and posting a 1.21 WHIP that's third-best. On Friday against Washington, No. 5 starter Zach Eflin limited the Nats to two runs over five innings, picking up his fourth straight win in the process.

"I didn't have my best stuff, but I battled with what I had," said the lanky, 24-year-old righty. "Had a lot of offense tonight, which is awesome."

As has been the case lately, Odubel Herrera did the bulk of the damage at the dish. The white-hot center fielder had four hits on Friday, including a two-run homer in the third off Nats starter Tanner Roark that put the Phillies up for good. It was the fifth consecutive game in which Herrera went deep, making him just the sixth player in franchise history to homer in five straight (Rhys Hoskins was the last one to do it, in 2017). Over his past eight contests, the 26-year-old center fielder is hitting .472 (17-for-36) with eight extra-base hits and has driven in 10 runs.

"I don't think there's any words for it," said Eflin of Herrera's production. "It's simply incredible what he can do."

Nevertheless, Herrera tried to put words to it.

"All I'm thinking about is helping the team win," he said through an interpreter. "Luckily for me, I'm hitting the ball well."

As Herrera spoke to a group of reporters, starter Vince Velasquez climbed on top of a chair and stood behind the throng with his eyes fixed on his teammate. When Herrera balked and asked Velasquez what he was doing, the pitcher quipped: "I just want to watch your interview."

For Velasquez, watching Herrera was easier said than done, on account of the laser lights -- red, green and indigo -- that were bouncing all around the clubhouse ceiling and walls. That has been the custom after Philly wins this season, thanks to Arrieta and veteran reliever Tommy Hunter. The pair of former Cubs brought the tradition with them from Chicago, where they used to light it up after home wins. In Philly, though, they've taken it one step further with a portable kit they purchased in spring training at the Sam Ash store in Clearwater, Florida, and that comes with them on the road.

As for which Phillies player controls the music during the laser light show, it varies from game to game. But it didn't matter who was the postgame DJ on Friday. All that mattered is that there was one -- which is more than the Nationals could say.