WASHINGTON -- Before Tuesday, Russell Branyan's year sounded like a country song. "My truck got stolen in Spring Training, the refrigerator quit working at the house where we were staying and we had some issues with family," Branyan began. "It's been a long year, but I still have a big-league uniform on my back." That's where Branyan's tune strikes a more upbeat tune, and the newest Phillie played a large role in keeping the Phillies relevant in two playoff races. Branyan smacked a two-run pinch-hit homer to lead Philadelphia to a 3-2 win over the Nationals at RFK Stadium, prompting a large of Phillies fans to chant his name.
In his first at-bat since being acquired five days ago from Cleveland, Branyan torched Jon Rauch, sending a down-the-middle fastball into the Nationals' bullpen. He gazed briefly at the ball's majestic flight, discarded his bat and performed the mandatory task of jogging around the bases. That swing cemented his place as the latest player not on the Opening Day roster -- he's the 10th -- to contribute to a Phillies' victory. "He can win a game with one swing," manager Charlie Manuel said. "That's why we got him." That swing helped the team avoid spoiling Kyle Lohse's best effort in three outings with Philadelphia. The right-hander went 6 2/3 innings and allowed two runs on five hits. He carried a two-hit shutout into the seventh before surrendering two infield singles and a pinch, two-run double to former Minnesota teammate Tony Batista. "He's a nice guy, just not tonight," Lohse said. "It wasn't that bad a pitch. The location was good. Just the movement, it didn't move off the plate enough." Branyan did Batista one better. His two-run shot scored Carlos Ruiz, who cashed in Philadelphia's first run when he singled in Jayson Werth. Werth reached when Nationals' third baseman Ryan Zimmerman committed his 18th error of the season, changing the inning's complexion. Despite a .111 career average (11-for-108) as a pinch-hitter -- with 57 strikeouts -- Branyan found a 1-0 pitch he liked, providing the power the Phillies hoped they had acquired when they added him to their bench. Branyan knew Manuel from coming up with Cleveland, and the skipper tried to get the slugger to stay on top of the ball more. "It was a free and easy swing tonight," Branyan said. "I was able to pull that ball. All year, I've been taking that same pitch and pulling it foul, hooking it foul. Or that pitch away, I've been slicing foul. It's taken a lot of hits away from me this year." Just like his Ford 250 3/4-ton truck, which had been lifted from a mall parking lot in Phoenix, and used for unsavory purposes. The vehicle was recovered, and not in the best condition. "I didn't take it back," he said. "It was totaled. [The thieves] took it to Mexico and ran illegals back and forth." A few days later, his fully stocked refrigerator at his Spring Training lodging stopped working, spoiling the perishables. Surviving that and the loss of his transportation, Branyan batted .197 with seven homers, 19 RBIs and 48 strikeouts in 122 at-bats with San Diego, who released him July 28. He went home to Pepper Pike, Ohio, and contemplated an offer from Cleveland's Triple-A team in Buffalo. "I was sitting at my house wondering if I needed to finish out the year somewhere, so I decided to go to Buffalo and get some at-bats," said Branyan, who went 0-for-4 in his one game there, with three strikeouts, and was traded to Philadelphia that night. "It was the most rewarding three strikeouts has been to me all year. I'm happy where I'm at now. We're going to make a run."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.