PHILADELPHIA -- His eyes locked on the field ahead, Darin Ruf leaned forward against the bench in the Phillies' dugout, waiting for it to end. Ryan Howard, the man whose record he broke just weeks earlier in Double-A Reading, stood next to him, grinning.
"I knew something was up when I tried to give the bat boy a [fist] pound and he didn't even acknowledge me. So it's like, 'All right, OK,' if he's not going to do anything. But then I tried talking to [Tyler] Cloyd and Steve [LeRud], and nothing. So it was like, 'OK, let's see how long this lasts.'"
About five minutes later, after three more batters had taken their hacks and the inning had ended, Ruf's teammates finally ended their silent-treatment prank and mobbed the newest Phillie to celebrate his first Major League hit -- a home run.
"That was a long one," manager Charlie Manuel said with a smile. "Some guys took two innings before they talked to him."
Ruf's second-inning solo shot was the first of three homers Philadelphia hit in a 6-3 win over the first-place Nationals, but it drew the most excitement among fans. The Phillies' faithful had been clamoring to see Ruf play ever since the 26-year-old Nebraskan made headlines with 20 August home runs in Double-A.
The long ball came against Washington's Ross Detwiler, whom he had faced before -- in college. Ruf went 1-for-3 against Detwiler in 2007, when Ruf was at Creighton and the left-hander at Missouri State.
"Perfect," Detwiler said. "Good guy to be the first one, right? I'm sure he got me in college, too."
With the Phillies (78-76) all but out of postseason contention -- they remain 5 1/2 games behind the Cardinals for the second National League Wild Card spot with eight to play -- Manuel is giving Ruf a shot to show what he's got. Ruf, a first baseman by trade, is by no means a finished product in left field but continues to work at it. He is set to hone his skills in left field in winter ball in a couple months.
But first, he will get a few more looks with the Phillies. Manuel said Ruf, who finished 2-for-3 on Tuesday, will be in the lineup again on Wednesday against Nationals left-hander John Lannan.
"I'm just trying to approach it like any other game," Ruf said. "I'm not trying to look at it as a tryout by any means, but just going out there and playing baseball." His key hit on Tuesday sparked a string of five unanswered Phillies' runs. Just a batter after Howard's RBI single broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth, Carlos Ruiz broke the game open with a three-run homer to cap a four-run frame. Three more hits will give Philadelphia's All-Star catcher a career-high 116, adding yet another accolade to a career year.
Though he was not his sharpest, Cole Hamels pitched well enough to improve his record to 16-6, setting a new single-season career high in victories. The All-Star left-hander was unable to last six innings for just the third time in 30 starts, and the first time since July 27, needing 99 pitches to get through five innings. He gave up three runs on seven hits -- all singles -- and struck out six while walking just one.
The Nationals (93-61) made Hamels pay for a two-out walk in the second inning when Kurt Suzuki lined a single up the middle to drive in Danny Espinosa for the game's first run. Back-to-back RBI singles from Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman highlighted Hamels' fifth and final inning of work.
"I give their hitters a lot of credit," Manuel said. "They were definitely making [Hamels] pitch. He's pitched against them quite a bit in the past, and they were determined. ... But he's had a big year for us. I don't know where we'd be without him. He's been the guy that pitches the game that gets us out of trouble a lot."
Domonic Brown chipped in with a solo home run, his fifth of the season, in the sixth, and Philadelphia's much-improved bullpen held down the fort over the final four innings.
But ultimately, the game will likely be remembered for Ruf's memorable first hit -- and the treatment he got from his teammates afterward.
"That was very loving of them," Ruf said. "The longest silent treatment of all time, I guess. It's probably for all the times I suggested we do it to someone in Double-A. But I guess I had it coming to me."
Jake Kaplan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.