WASHINGTON – Darin Ruf led all minor leaguers with 38 home runs this year, earning the nickname "Babe."
Now that he's getting a taste of the majors with the Philadelphia Phillies, Ruf sure is doing a pretty good imitation of Mr. Ruth — especially against the Washington Nationals.
Ruf hit two solo shots Tuesday night in Philadelphia's 4-2 loss to Washington. The Phillies have scored a total of seven runs in their past three games with the Nationals, and Ruf has driven in all seven.
"If we didn't have Ruf," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said, "we might not score against Washington."
All three of the kid's homers in the majors have come against Washington.
"The level of play is better up here, but pitchers throw a lot more strikes," Ruf said, by way of explaining his success so far. "They have more command, which as hitter, you're in there with an idea of, 'I can swing at every pitch and be OK,' almost. It's nice to have that kind of philosophy."
Ruf homered off Tom Gorzelanny in the fourth inning, and Tyler Clippard in the eighth.
Manuel thinks Ruf's hitting could help spur good play by other young players as the Phillies (81-80) look to improve next season on their third-place showing in 2012.
"If I'd see somebody hitting that way, I knew that affected me. I knew I better pick it up and things like that or whatever. This is a dog-eat-dog game," Manuel said.
Ruf wasn't the only player to go deep Tuesday. Washington's Adam LaRoche hit his career-high 33rd to become the third Nationals player with 100 RBIs in a season, another celebratory moment for the NL East champions.
When the Nationals Park gates opened, early-arriving fans in the crowd of 33,546 were treated to a video montage of alcohol-spraying and general mirth-making from a night earlier, when the home team clinched its first division title since moving from Montreal in 2005.
Even the guy playing the national anthem on his bat-violin Tuesday wore a gray T-shirt marking the accomplishment.
With a thick fog hanging over the stadium, Washington earned its major league-leading 97th win on a day when manager Davey Johnson decided most of his main guys deserved a rest. Indeed, LaRoche was Washington's only everyday player who stayed in for more than five innings — and he led off the sixth by driving the second pitch thrown by reliever Josh Lindblom (3-5) into the home bullpen in right field. Several Nationals relievers raised their fists as the ball cleared the wall.
LaRoche tied his career-best RBI total and joined Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn — who each did it twice — as the only Nationals players to reach 100 in that category. Johnson and others greeted LaRoche with lots of vigorous high-fives and smiles; Jayson Werth pulled LaRoche in for a hug.
"Feels good," LaRoche said, "to have a little celebration two nights in a row."
LaRoche responded to the fans' standing ovation by climbing to the top of the dugout steps and tipping his red batting helmet. In the seventh, some fans chanted "M-V-P!" before LaRoche struck out swinging.
His homer had put Washington ahead 2-1, and Steve Lombardozzi tacked on an RBI single off Lindblom, Philadelphia's third pitcher on a night both teams started relievers. Zach Duke (1-0) threw a scoreless sixth to get his first major league win since Aug. 14, 2011, for Arizona. Drew Storen earned his fourth save in five chances.
Johnson used Gorzelanny to begin the game instead of originally scheduled starter Gio Gonzalez, preferring to let the left-hander who is 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA stay fresh for a start in Game 1 of the division series.
LaRoche and center fielder Bryce Harper were the only regulars in Johnson's starting lineup. He opted to sit third baseman Zimmerman, right fielder Werth, left fielder Michael Morse, shortstop Ian Desmond, second baseman Danny Espinosa and catcher Kurt Suzuki.
"How about that Goon Squad?" a grinning Johnson said, referring to the nickname Washington's bench players have been given. "Told you they were tough."
Harper, the NL rookie of the month for September, went 1 for 3 with a single and a stolen base, his 18th, in the fifth inning. Manuel came out to argue that Harper advanced on a ball fouled off by the batter.
If he's displeased about the way this season went for five-time defending division champion Philadelphia, at least Manuel can get excited about what Ruf is doing.
"I like what I see out of him as far as the ball jumping off his bat," Manuel said. "He's got power. He's got power to all fields."
NOTES: LHP Cliff Lee (6-8) starts for the Phillies on Wednesday. ... Coming to a blooper reel near you: Phillies RF Domonic Brown completely misjudged his leaping attempt to catch a deep foul fly in the eighth — and the ball landed quite a ways behind Brown.