For LaRoche, a milestone moment and another huge hit

Remember back a few months ago, when a large portion of the Nationals fan base was pushing for the team to sign Prince Fielder, a move which would have essentially kicked Adam LaRoche to the curb?

Yeah, Davey Johnson does, too. And he’s plenty happy the Nats stuck with LaRoche.

“He’s making that move look real good. That lack of move,” Johnson chuckled after tonight’s game.

Considering the year LaRoche had last season, with the .172 batting average, the boos he received at Nationals Park and the season-ending shoulder injury, today clearly meant a lot.

LaRoche singled in the first, smacked a solo home run to right-center in the sixth inning and then added a bases-clearing double down the line in right, giving the Nats three huge insurance runs and allowing them to hang on for the 7-4 win.

After the double, it flashed up on the video board that LaRoche had just reached 1,000 career hits, sending the 25,942 at Nats Park to their feet for a standing ovation. LaRoche got another ovation at the end of the inning, and normally not one to show much emotion, the veteran first baseman tipped his hat to the fans and a warm smile crept across his face.

“It was really special, to say the least,” LaRoche said of the moment. “Obviously going through what I did last year and not being able to be a big part of it and now to come back and have (the fans) behind me the way they are ... it was perfect.”

LaRoche has given Nats fans plenty to applaud this season. He has seven home runs, ranks sixth in the majors with 29 RBIs and has the 11th-best average (.339) and eighth-best OPS (1.024) in the bigs.

He’s delivered clutch hit after clutch hit, and did so again tonight, with the home run giving the Nats a two-run lead and the double turning a one-run edge into a four-run cushion. LaRoche showed once again that without him in the middle of the lineup this season, the Nats would be lost.

“He’s been indispensable,” Johnson said. “We’re missing the guys in the lineup. Even (Ryan Zimmerman’s) been struggling. And he’s been one constant from Day 1. Drove in a lot of big runs. Just a big player.”

It’d only be natural for LaRoche to hear all the offseason rumors about Fielder and enter this season feeling like he had a chip on his shoulder or needed to prove something to the Nationals and their fans. After all, he signed a two-year, $16 million deal before the 2011 campaign, and only delivered three home runs and 15 RBIs in 43 games last season before needing surgery to repair a torn labrum.

But that’s not how the mild-mannered 32-year-old approached things entering this spring.

“I don’t look at what’s going on on the outside and feel like I’ve got to come here and prove the salary or prove missing a year last year, whatever it is,” LaRoche said. “But as a competitor, I wanted to prove to myself that I could come back from this surgery and do what I know I’m capable of doing. So to come out and do it is nice reassurance.”

Now, LaRoche is in a position he’s never really been in before - he’s a legitimate candidate for a spot on the All-Star team.

Traditionally a super-slow starter, LaRoche is red-hot and plays on a team that’s currently in first place in its division. If there was ever a year for the guy to be selected to the Midsummer Classic, it’d be this one.

“It’ll be a first,” LaRoche said. “I’ve never been mentioned in any All-Star ballots considering my typical first halves. It would be neat. It would be a true honor. Especially (with the All-Star Game in Kansas City) being right up the road from our ranch in Kansas. It’d be cool.

“That’s a ways off, but it would be a pretty special deal, not to mention, if we get a few guys going to that, we’re probably winning some games, too.”

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