"A lot of those teams the fans started rooting for are now our division rivals," starting pitcher Tim Redding said. "During the years there was no baseball, they had to find a team."
Now as the Nationals prepare to open a new ballpark in 2008, they'll also begin the battle to become Washington's team, developing a loyal following in the region.
To do that, they'll have to become competitive in one of baseball's toughest divisions, and on Saturday, the Phillies refused to lose as they fought for their postseason lives.
After relievers Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero had left the game, the Nationals' bullpen allowed three runs in the 10th inning, with the winning hit coming from Ryan Howard, who had struck out in his first four plate appearances.
Instead of adding to his "golden sombrero," Howard laced a 1-2 pitch from pitcher Chris Schroder into the outfield to bring home Chase Utley for the eventual winning run.
"He's a good hitter, and he's going to get his licks," Schroder said. "I didn't get it up enough."
Shane Victorino kept the rally going after reliever Jesus Colome didn't cover first base on a grounder that went that way. Manager Manny Acta described that as the type of error he's not as quick to forgive.
"[Colome] should have covered the base," he said. "That really hurt us."
A game that started as a pitchers' duel ended with a pair of no-decisions. Redding threw into the seventh, allowing one run and striking out seven. Philadelphia's Kyle Kendrick went six innings and struck out six batters. He was on the mound for one unearned run.
Redding displayed excellent command throughout the game. His lone blemish was a solo home run by Utley on a pitch that Utley fished out from beneath him in the first inning.
"I was pleased with the game plan we drew up," Redding said.
"Unfortunately, Kendrick was good, too."
After the starters left, the Nationals found themselves in a position to go ahead in the seventh.
Brian Schneider opened the inning with a liner to center field. After Aaron Rowand made an unsuccessful attempt at a diving catch, the ball rolled past him as Schneider hustled to third base.
"We got a runner to third with no outs," Acta said. "We had a chance to win the game. The next guys just couldn't get the ball out of the infield."
From there, the Phillies' relievers returned to the postseason form they've been displaying all week. From the eighth inning on, Washington's lone hit was a single from Nook Logan to lead off the 10th.
A combined 13 pitchers pushed the game close to the four-hour mark.
As Nationals fans slowly filed out, the Phillies' supporters remained, chanting "M-V-P" at shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Those cheers were heard in Washington's dugout.
As the Nationals bid farewell to RFK Stadium on Sunday, the game will also have statistical significance. The team is 121-121 all time at the stadium, and Sunday will tip the scales in one of two directions.
"If their fans are the ones being loud and obnoxious, it just makes us want to play better," Redding said. "For one more day, at least, this is our house."