Max Scherzer didn’t look quite like his normal self in his return from a bruised calf, but the Nationals lineup made sure that didn’t matter with another well-rounded offensive explosion to move this team one step closer to a division title.
Michael A. Taylor’s four-hit night that included an inside-the-park grand slam - more on that shortly - highlighted the Nationals’ 11-10, too-close-for-comfort win over the Phillies and gave Scherzer the win on a night when the ace didn’t look his best.
The Nationals’ fifth consecutive victory brings their magic number to clinch the National League East division title down to three, with the Marlins (currently 19 1/2 games back with 21 to go) still playing the Braves in Atlanta tonight.
Scherzer figured to be the central figure of this contest, returning to the mound six days after he took a line drive off his left calf in Milwaukee. The ace proclaimed himself good to go after several days of treatment and a pair of successful throwing sessions, but he certainly looked rusty during a 28-pitch top of the first.
Scherzer issued three walks in that frame, plus a three-run homer to Nick Williams on a grooved fastball. The right-hander found himself as his night progressed, though, and retired 12-of-13 batters at one point before fading in the sixth.
Scherzer finished his outing with 104 pitches, having allowed four runs and six hits, and his ERA climbed from 2.19 to 2.32. Despite the early 3-0 deficit, the Nationals quickly made it up and then some against Phillies right-hander Jake Thompson. RBI singles by Ryan Zimmerman and Trea Turner got them on the board in the bottom of the first and second, setting the stage for Taylor’s dramatic moment in the third.
With the bases loaded (thanks in no small part to two Phillies infield mistakes) Taylor roped a line drive to center field. Odubel Herrera appeared to have a play on it, but he misread the ball off the bat, took a couple steps in and couldn’t recover in time, letting the ball land safely and roll to the fence. With Daniel Murphy, Zimmerman and Matt Wieters all chugging around the bases in front of him, Taylor cruised 360 feet and slid in safely, coming back to tag the plate with his hand just to be sure.
The crowd of 29,837 roared as Taylor recorded only the second inside-the-park grand slam in franchise history, a feat previously accomplished only by the Expos’ Bombo Rivera on June 26, 1976 against the Pirates.
The most recent inside-the-park slam in any major league game? It came off the bat of the Phillies’ Aaron Altherr on Sept. 25, 2015, against the Nationals, with a misplay in center field by ... Michael A. Taylor.
That was only one of four hits on the night for Taylor, who twice singled and also roped a triple in the bottom of the eighth for his fifth RBI of the game.
And Taylor’s heroics tonight weren’t limited to the batter’s box. He also fired a perfect strike to the plate in the top of the seventh to nail Williams trying to score from second base, this coming one night after he robbed a home run.
The Nationals got plenty more offense in this one. Turner launched a two-run homer to left in the sixth, leaving himself a triple shy of the cycle. Zimmerman’s RBI single later in the inning extended the lead to 10-4.
Rhys Hoskins’ three-run homer off Oliver Pérez in the seventh got the Phillies right back in the game, but Matt Albers finished out the inning keeping the three-run lead intact. Brandon Kintzler pitched a 1-2-3 eighth, but then Shawn Kelley seved up a three-run homer to Maikel Franco in the ninth, forcing Sean Doolittle to make his fourth appearance in five days to earn his 17th save in as many chances since joining the club.