WASHINGTON (AP) – Keeping an eye on the scoreboard, the Philadelphia Phillies prolonged their playoff push by beating the Washington Nationals 4-3 Friday night behind Ryan Howard’s 21st homer and Jimmy Rollins’ two hits.

The Phillies began the night two games behind the Houston Astros in the NL wild-card standings. Houston hosted the Chicago Cubs on Friday, and the Phillies were keeping tabs on that result.

“We’ll do our best,” Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said before the game, “but I guarantee we’ll be looking up there.”

Howard was responsible for Philadelphia’s first run, tying the game at 1 with a solo shot to right off Livan Hernandez (15-10) in the second inning. Howard leads major league rookies in homers, and no Phillies rookie has hit more than 21 since Willie Montanez finished with 30 in 1971.

Rollins stretched his hitting streak to 34 games by leading off the third with a flare to shallow left field, barely beyond the outstretched glove of shortstop Cristian Guzman. Rollins swiped second for his 40th steal of the season – he later added No. 41 – and scored on Chase Utley’s single. Utley came around to make it 3-1 on Pat Burrell’s double.

Cory Lidle (13-11) improved to 6-0 in his career against the Expos-Nationals, allowing two runs – only one earned – and six hits in 6 2-3 innings with eight strikeouts. He gave up Preston Wilson’s RBI groundout in the first inning, and another run when shortstop Rollins made a throwing error in the fourth.

Lidle left with two on and two outs in the seventh, replaced by Ugueth Urbina, who loaded the bases with a walk to Brad Wilkerson. Jamey Carroll hit a grounder that second baseman Utley slid to stop, then flipped to Rollins for the force at second.

After Urbina walked Ryan Church and put runners on first and second with two outs in the eighth, closer Billy Wagner came on and struck out Guzman on three pitches. Wagner gave up a run in the ninth before finishing up for his 37th save in 40 chances.

The Phillies added a run on Kenny Lofton’s RBI single in the sixth off Hernandez, who allowed four runs and 10 hits in seven innings. He threw 130 pitches and raised his innings total to an NL-high 246 1-3. Hernandez led the league in that category each of the past two years.

The right-hander is scheduled to have surgery Wednesday on the right knee that’s hampered him much of the season and was drained at least twice.

Notes: Saturday’s Philadelphia-Washington game was switched to a 4:10 p.m. start from the originally scheduled 7:05 p.m. because Fox is broadcasting it. … The Phillies are 15-6 when Howard homers. … Rollins’ hitting streak is the longest in the majors since Florida’s Luis Castillo hit in 35 consecutive games in 2002. … Wilson raised his season RBIs total to 90. When manager Frank Robinson began sitting out regulars once Washington’s playoff hopes faded, he left Wilson in the starting lineup so the outfielder could try to reach 90 RBIs before becoming a free agent.

AP-ES-09-30-05 2230EDT

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