New Phillie Branyan's HR sparks rally vs. Nats

Phillies 3, Nationals 2

WASHINGTON (AP) -- It hasn't been Russell Branyan's year. But Tuesday night was definitely his night.

In his first at-bat with the Phillies, Branyan drilled a Jon Rauch fastball into the mezzanine for a pinch-hit, two-run homer that gave Philadelphia a 3-2 win over the Washington Nationals.

It was a nice turnaround for a guy who was released by one team and traded by another. His season had an inauspicious start when, in spring training, his truck was stolen and his refrigerator stopped working.

"It's been a long year," Branyan said.

With the win, the Phillies kept the heat on the New York Mets in the NL East. The Phillies remained three games behind the Mets, who beat Pittsburgh 5-4.

Trailing 2-0 entering the eighth, Jayson Werth hit a one-out grounder to third that Ryan Zimmerman threw away for a two-base error. Carlos Ruiz followed with a single off Rauch (8-3) to score Werth. Branyan lined a 1-0 pitch into the mezzanine in right field for his eighth home run of the year.

Branyan started the season with San Diego and batted .197 in 61 games before being released on July 28. He signed with Cleveland as a free agent on Aug. 7 and played one game with their top minor league affiliate in Buffalo the next day -- striking out three times -- before the Phillies acquired him on Aug. 9.

"The most rewarding three strikeouts have been to me all year," Branyan said.

Now he's reunited with Charlie Manuel, who was his first hitting coach with Cleveland in 1998. Nine years and six teams later, he's delighted to be back with Manuel and in a pennant race.

"I've still got a big-league uniform on my back, and we're in contention for the National League East. I'm on a good ballclub," Branyan said.

Manuel said he didn't care that Branyan had but one previous pinch-hit homer in his career.

"I don't care if he doesn't have any. The way he swings, he's dangerous," Manuel said.

Said Rauch: "It was a very bad mistake. A hitter like that who has been around a while and knows the game, obviously he's going to capitalize on a mistake pitch."

Branyan was batting for Antonio Alfonseca (4-1), who got the win after he retired the only batter he faced in the seventh. Tom Gordon allowed one hit in the eighth. Brett Myers struck out the side in the ninth for his 10th save.

Through seven innings, the Phillies had been held to just one hit, a leadoff single by Aaron Rowand in the fifth off Washington starter Shawn Hill. In his first start since missing more than three months because of a sprained right elbow, Hill pitched six innings, threw 80 pitches and struck out a career-high seven. He walked one.

"It took me a couple of innings to kind of settle down, to get to where I was sharp," Hill said. "It turned out well. It turned out better than I would have expected, to be honest."

Hill had a streak of 10 hitless innings, thanks to the five no-hit innings he threw against Florida on May 11 before leaving with his elbow injury, four more Tuesday to begin the game, and the final inning of his May 6 start.

"God, it would be nice to have this guy 35 times a year going out there and giving you the effort he gives you every five days," Nationals manager Manny Acta said.

The Nationals took a 2-0 lead in the seventh on a two-run, pinch-hit double by Tony Batista. Ryan Church led off with a a single off Philadelphia starter Kyle Lohse. One out later, Logan lined a soft single off second baseman Tadahito Iguchi's glove. Batista followed with his two-run double.

Lohse, in his third start since being acquired from Cincinnati on July 30, was nearly as good as Hill. In his first six innings, he allowed just two hits, singles in the second to Church and in the sixth to Felipe Lopez.

Game notes
...Nationals first baseman Dmitri Young returned to the starting lineup after missing four games because of tightness in his left hamstring. He was hitless in three at-bats. ... Nationals second baseman Ronnie Belliard is 1-for-21 in his last six games. ... Washington signed the 31st pick in June's draft, left-hander Josh Smoker. ...Manuel is unsure about whether right-hander Adam Eaton will make Friday's scheduled start. In his last four starts, he's allowed 16 runs in 12 2/3 innings. ... In the seventh, Brian Schneider popped up a bunt in foul ground that catcher Ruiz caught before colliding with third baseman Greg Dobbs. Ruiz was motionless on the ground for a few moments before getting up. He stayed in the game and Manuel said he was fine.