WASHINGTON - Charlie Manuel's Big Three went to work again last night at RFK Stadium.

The Big Three left the ballpark with arms still attached, and a few more scoreless innings in the ledger.

It's quite a thing.

The Big Three - J.C. Romero, Brett Myers and Tom Gordon, each pitching for the fifth consecutive day - combined with fellow relievers Geoff Geary and Clay Condrey for four scoreless innings last night in a 4-1 Phillies victory over the Washington Nationals in 10 innings.

The win kept the Phillies 11/2 games behind the New York Mets in the National League East with seven games to play. San Diego's loss last night put the Phils a half-game behind the Padres in the NL wild-card race.

Ryan Howard, who struck out his first four times at-bat to put him one strikeout shy of tying Adam Dunn's single-season record of 195, knocked in the go-ahead run with a single to center field in the 10th.

The Phils tacked on insurance runs after that.

"That's why you work in the off-season," Romero said after the Phillies won their third in a row. "In the off-season, you train for this moment. Right now, it's the time of year where your teammates need you. They're counting on you."

The Phillies got good pitching from the start, although they would have loved to have had Kyle Kendrick pitch into the seventh inning or further - or the offense to score, oh, 10 runs or more - if for no other reason than to rest a weary bullpen.

Romero had pitched eight times in the previous nine days. Myers and Gordon had pitched seven times in the previous eight days. Geary had pitched nine times this month, since the Phillies recalled him from triple-A Ottawa.

Could the bullpen possibly continue to pitch as well as it has of late?

Romero went 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in his nine-day stretch. Myers went 0-1 with a 2.35 ERA and Gordon went 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in their eight-day stretches. Geary went 2-0 with a 1.26 ERA.

"I don't have time to feel tired," Myers said. "When that phone rings, you have to be ready to go. We've got seven games left. There's no time to sit back and relax on anything. If I have to pitch tomorrow, I'll pitch tomorrow."

Pitching coach Rich Dubee said before the game that he thinks the time missed earlier this season - Myers and Gordon spent significant time on the disabled list with shoulder injuries - has helped them bounce back despite so much work.

"That may be a blessing in disguise, that they didn't work as hard as some relievers do in the middle part of the season," Dubee said.

Kendrick had a shutout through five innings, allowing just four hits. He gave up a leadoff single to Ryan Zimmerman in the sixth. Ryan Church hit a one-out single to center to put runners on first and second.

Ronnie Belliard then hit a hard grounder to third baseman Abraham Nuñez, who spun and threw to second for the force. Chase Utley, whose solo home run to right field in the first inning gave the Phillies the 1-0 lead, avoided a hard-charging slide from Church and threw to first.

Except the throw was low and wide.

It got past Howard to allow Zimmerman to score and make it 1-1.

Kendrick worked out of the inning without further damage. But Manuel pulled him after the sixth, even though he had thrown just 93 pitches. In six innings, Kendrick had allowed six hits, one unearned run and no walks. He struck out a career-high six.

So with Kendrick out and the score tied, it meant - yep, you guessed it - more work for Romero and Co.

Romero started the seventh and was greeted by Brian Schneider's leadoff triple, as centerfielder Aaron Rowand just missed a diving catch. Romero walked Tony Batista to put runners on the corners. After Nook Logan lined out to Jimmy Rollins, Felipe Lopez hit a grounder to Utley.

Utley threw home, and this time, the throw was on target to get pinch-runner Cristian Guzman on a close play at the plate. Geary entered to face Zimmerman and recorded the final out of the inning.

Gordon, pitching for a fifth consecutive day for the first time in his career, pitched a perfect eighth. Myers pitched a perfect ninth to send the game into extra innings.

Condrey picked up the save in the 10th, as the Phils matched their win total of last season with seven games to go.

"They said they wanted the ball," Manuel said, referring to the Big Three. "They said they were ready. If they were ready, I was going to use them.

"We have to win games. We're at the point where we have to win. Maybe they heard what I said about stepping up. I said, 'If we got it, let's see it.' I don't know if that had anything to do with it, but they might have gotten mad as hell and said, 'Hell, we better pitch.' "

Contact staff writer Todd Zolecki at 215-854-4874 or tzolecki@phillynews.com.

Read his blog at http://go.philly.com/zozone.