The hits finally came, in rapid succession, both from guys who have been hitting recently and from guys who haven’t been doing it for a while.
And then after turning the rest of the game over to their newly reconfigured bullpen, the Nationals looked like the best version of themselves again, outlasting the Orioles for a 9-7 victory that ensured a small bit of history for the home club.
Having now beaten their Beltway rivals in all four head-to-head meetings in 2018, the Nationals ensured their first season-series win over the Orioles since 2007.
For that, they can thank just about everyone in tonight’s lineup, a group that left the crowd of 33,391 muttering in frustration for four innings but then finally exploded for a pair of four-run rallies. Even if many of the hits didn’t come close to breaking the exit velocity meter.
“There’s some big hits that go over the fence and in the gaps, but bleeders and duck farts, honestly it gets in the heads of the pitcher,” said Adam Eaton, producer of two of those hits. “I don’t think we tore the cover off the ball tonight, by any stretch of the imagination. But I think we put some balls in play, and in some good places, and good things happened. And that’s really got to be our key to success.”
Anthony Rendon drove in the eventual winning run with a double to the gap in left-center in the bottom of the seventh. Trea Turner went 4-for-4 with a homer, a double and two singles. Eaton reached base three times and drove in two runs. Juan Soto also reached base three times. And Bryce Harper, at long last, drove in his first run in 10 days, albeit on a blooper into shallow left field.
It didn’t matter how they did it, the mere fact the Nationals did score runs was cause for celebration enough, not to mention reason for manager Davey Martinez to try out the newest weapon in his bullpen.
Kelvin Herrera, acquired Monday night from the Royals for three minor leaguers, was greeted with a loud ovation when he entered for the top of the eighth. And the flamethrowing right-hander earned a louder ovation when he retired the side on six pitches, his fastball topping out at 98 mph.
“Obviously with the fans yelling and everything, you get a little emotional, excited out there,” Herrera said via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “So I was a little nervous. But you got to do you job.”
Sean Doolittle then closed it out in the ninth, earning his 19th save in 20 opportunities, his first with a new setup man pitching in front of him, despite allowing a solo homer to Joey Rickard.
The only negative news on this night: Daniel Murphy, after looking uncomfortable running down the first base line on a fifth-inning grounder, was replaced in the field the next inning by Mark Reynolds. Martinez, though, insisted the move was made solely as part of a double-switch that allowed Justin Miller to pitch two innings in relief without his spot in the order coming up.
By that point, Jefry Rodriguez had already completed an erratic start. This wasn’t Rodriguez’s major league debut - that came 16 days ago in an emergency relief appearance in Atlanta - but it was his major league starting debut, and so there had to be a few extra butterflies as the lanky right-hander warmed in the bullpen.
Rodriguez navigated his way through two scoreless innings to get his evening started, but it required 41 pitches to face seven batters, and that foretold problems to come. He served up a pair of two-run homers in the third and fourth innings, one to Jace Peterson, one to Trey Mancini. And by the fifth inning, the Orioles had deciphered his fastball-curveball combo, manufacturing a run without benefit of a hit.
Rodriguez departed after that, having allowed five runs on four hits and three walks in five innings, striking out six. His stuff certainly looks like it will play at this level, but there’s plenty of refinement yet for him to master.
“He had a lot 2-2, 3-2 counts, made a couple mistakes, but I like what I saw,” Martinez said. “He’s got electric stuff.”
Down 5-1 when Rodriguez departed, and having recorded only one hit in the game (Turner’s solo homer in the second), the Nationals appeared to be headed for another lackluster night at the plate. But then came a sustained rally against David Hess, one that wound up producing four runs despite hardly any well-struck balls.
Turner, Wilmer Difo and Spencer Kieboom set the table by loading the bases with nobody out. Eaton then made just enough contact to dribble a ball between short and third and drive home two runs. A sacrifice fly by Rendon brought home the inning’s third run. And then, lo and behold, Harper sent a ducksnort of a blooper into shallow left field to drive the tying run home, complete the rally and maybe - just maybe - snap him out of his long funk.
“Good for Bryce,” Martinez said. “He’s been making a conscious effort to stay on the baseball and trying to stay towards left-center. I’m very proud that he’s working on stuff.”
And the Nationals weren’t done. Even after previously lights-out reliever Justin Miller surrendered a run for the third consecutive outing, his teammates stormed back and scored four more runs in the bottom of the seventh with another sustained rally.
All of a sudden, a team that was 1-for-13 to begin the game went 12 for its next 17 and proved it actually is capable of scoring runs in bunches for the first time in a while. Even if they didn’t all come on big blasts or line drives.
“When you’re going good or bad, those balls that trickle through the hole or fall in between people, that mentally boosts how you feel, how you’re playing,” Turner said. “When each and every person has confidence in themselves, it makes all of us better. I feel like all year, we’ve been hitting balls right at people, so it’s nice to get a bunch of those in one game and come out with a win.”