On a night in which the Nationals committed four errors - one a piece by every member of the starting infield - it was strangely fitting that the moment that changed the entire complexion of this game was a brilliant double play turned by three members of that very infield.
Two on, one out in the top of the fifth, the Nationals trailing by two runs and teetering on the brink of disaster. Stephen Drew dives to his right at shortstop to make a backhanded snare of Jhonny Peralta’s scorched one-hopper, then throws from his knees to Daniel Murphy, who turns and fires to Ryan Zimmerman at first base a split-second before Peralta’s foot touches the bag.
Inning over. Disaster averted. And the next thing you know, the Nationals score 11 unanswered runs en route to a 14-6 rout of the Cardinals.
“Play of the game,” said Tanner Roark, who was on the mound at the time. “It really was.”
It certainly was the momentum swing of the game. Prior to that point, the Nationals looked like a mess. They had committed three of their four errors, with at least two more plays that weren’t made that helped St. Louis open up a 5-3 lead and drive up Roark’s pitch count.
After it, they looked like a completely different team. They made big plays in the field, including another double play in which Bryce Harper caught a line drive in right field and fired back to first base to catch Matt Carpenter napping. They got quality relief work, with two scoreless innings from Matt Albers and another zero from Koda Glover before Shawn Kelley (pitching the ninth in place of the overworked Blake Treinen) finished things off in the ninth.
Most importantly, they hit. And hit. And hit some more.
The Nationals racked up 19 base hits in this game. They also drew six walks. They had a staggering 25 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, going 9-for-19 with four walks and two sacrifice flies.
“It takes a full team effort to put that many runs up, definitely one through nine,” said Adam Eaton, who had three hits, a walk and drive in three runs. “Great team win. It’s fun to see. There’s a lot of talent in this room, and being able to see it materialize is great for us.”
Oh, and Harper went 4-for-4 with three RBIs and two walks, reaching base in all six of his plate appearances and having plenty of opportunities to say hello to the St. Louis first baseman.
“Yeah, I got to know Carpenter a little bit more than I had,” Harper said with a smirk. “That was good. He’s a great guy.”
Earlier in the afternoon, when asked a question about his bullpen’s shaky first week to the season, manager Dusty Baker noted the opportunities his lineup squandered to turn slim leads into insurmountable ones, taking pressure off that relief corps.
“Sometimes when you have a chance to blow them out, you’ve got to blow them out,” he said, later adding: “Like I said, let’s score more.”
Well, they did just that tonight. Down 5-3, they scored three runs in the fifth, one in the sixth and then exploded for seven insurance runs in the eighth, turning what was a tight ballgame into the blowout Baker desired.
“We’re not going to be perfect every night,” Drew said. “We would love to be able to do that, but it’s part of the game. We bounce back, and we just got some really good timely hitting and good at-bats all night. It’s fun to watch.”
In the process, the Nationals secured their manager’s 1,770th career victory. That moves Baker past Jim Leyland and into 16th place on the all-time list. Twelve of the 15 men ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame, with only Gene Mauch (1,902 wins), Lou Piniella (1,835) and the still-active Bruce Bochy (1,791) not yet enshrined in Cooperstown.
“That just means I’ve been around a long time and had a relative amount of success,” said Baker, who has never won a World Series as a manager. “But I’ve got some more work to do.”
Baker would’ve had even more work to do had his team not rallied to come from behind tonight. A rally that was ignited by one spectacular double play. The full gratification of Drew’s web gem may have been delayed by a replay review that overturned first base umpire Jim Reynolds’ initial safe call, but it was no less satisfying once it was official and the home team was trotting off the field to a roar from the crowd of 27,413.
“Sometimes those big plays spark the crowd,” Eaton said. “When that play happened, you could just feel the momentum kind of catch fire on our side. It’s such a cool feeling. It starts with the fans. As soon as that happens, you can just like feel the tidal wave come from behind us and kind of pushes us there. It begins to materialize in some runs, and it took off from there.”