Nats remains half-game out in wild-card chase

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Now that the Philadelphia Phillies are atop the NL wild-card standings, they have to find a way to stay there.

Jon Lieber pitched six strong innings and Bobby Abreu hit a two-run double, leading the Phillies over the Washington Nationals
4-3 on Wednesday night.

On a day Terrell Owens' return to the Eagles after being dismissed for a week dominated the news in Philadelphia, the Phillies moved into a tie with Houston for first in the wild-card race and Washington remained a half-game behind.

"We've got a long ways to go, but I'm glad we caught them," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.

Philadelphia hasn't reached the postseason since losing the World Series in 1993. The Phillies were in the playoff race in the final month three of the last four years but faltered each time.

"The intensity of the players is different," Abreu said. "The way we play shows everyone we've got the right team."

Lieber (12-10) allowed two runs and three hits to win his third straight start after losing six of seven decisions. He retired the side in order five times and got the last 10 batters he faced out.

"My location got better as the game went on," Lieber said. "I kind of got into a rhythm."

Billy Wagner pitched the ninth for his 28th save in 30 chances. Ryan Madson worked out of a jam in the seventh after giving up a run. Ugueth Urbina pitched a scoreless eighth.

After the Nationals scored twice to tie it at 2 in the third, the Phillies went ahead for good in the bottom half.

Jimmy Rollins singled to lead off the inning against Esteban Loaiza (7-9). Kenny Lofton followed with a double. After Chase Utley bounced out to third, Abreu drove in both runners with a double high off the wall in left-center, giving the Phillies a 4-2 lead.

The Nationals were in position to tie it in the seventh but couldn't get a runner in from third with one out. Preston Wilson
started with a single against Madson and Brian Schneider doubled. Castilla's sacrifice fly to right scored Wilson and moved Schneider to third.

But pinch-hitter Carlos Baerga popped out to third base and Ryan Church, batting for reliever Luis Ayala, grounded to second.

"We've had trouble all year with a runner on third and less than two outs," Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. "Baerga knows how to hit. He just didn't get it done tonight."

Loaiza gave up four runs and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings.

Castilla's solo homer cut it to 2-1 and Jose Vidro's two-out single scored Cristian Guzman, who doubled, to tie it in the third.

The Phillies took a 2-0 lead in the first on Utley's sacrifice fly and an RBI double by Pat Burrell.

"In the first inning, all my pitches were right down the middle," Loaiza said. "I couldn't get the ball where I wanted."

Game notes
The Nationals optioned outfielder Brandon Watson after the game and will recall left-hander John Halama. ... Rollins had two hits in his first two at-bats after entering in a 2-for-35 slump. ... Abreu was 1-for-15 against Loaiza before his double in the third. ... Castilla has three homers in his last nine games and nine this season. ... The teams play a day-night doubleheader on Thursday and have two more series in Washington next month. ... Burrell has reached safely in 17 straight games and has 11 RBI in the last 11 games.