NEW YORK - At 10:51 p.m. Wednesday, Ryan Zimmerman launched a drive to right-center field that - thanks to a replay review reversal - gave the Nationals a walk-off win over the Phillies.
Eighty-eight hours and one minute after that uplifting moment, Trea Turner scampered home from third base on Juan Soto’s groundout to first, pumped his fist and was welcomed back to the dugout with high-fives and smiles.
The streak was over. After 32 consecutive zeroes on the scoreboard, the Nationals finally posted a “1.”
And then less than an hour later, they did the unthinkable and posted an “8.”
And then shortly after that, they posted a “6.”
Yes, there’s that star-studded, productive lineup that had been missing all weekend. Thanks to Soto’s RBI in the sixth, then a barrage of big hits in the eighth and ninth, the Nationals got the offense they’ve so desperately needed to go along with a dominant pitching performance by Jefry Rodriguez en route to a 15-0 rout of the Mets that was marred when closer Kelvin Herrera suffered what appeared to be a serious lower left leg injury in the bottom of the ninth.
Herrera, simply trying to finish off a blowout victory, fielded a grounder to his left by José Bautista. He looked to Zimmerman, thinking the veteran would be covering first base, but Zimmerman was too far from the bag, so Herrera had to run to the base himself to record the second out of the inning. After planting his left foot on the turf, though, he no longer could put any weight on it and had to hop to the base to finish the play before collapsing to the ground.
After a lengthy delay, Herrera was taken off the field via a cart, with Koda Glover entering to record the final out of a win that ended on a decidedly sour note.
“It killed the buzz, yeah,” said manager Davey Martinez, who despite the lopsided score was using his closer because he hadn’t pitched at all in five days. “He came into my office before the game and said he needs to throw today, no matter what. He hasn’t been out there but once since he came back (from a shoulder injury). We had Glover up. We were only going to let him throw like 15 pitches. So, just very weird.”
The Nationals had no initial word on Herrera’s condition, but Martinez said he injury was to his left foot and not his Achilles. Herrera, still in uniform, briefly came through the clubhouse on crutches, his foot in a protective boot. Not knowing the results of an X-ray that was taken at the stadium, the reliever couldn’t offer up any insight.
“I don’t actually know what happened, but hopefully it’s not a serious injury,” Turner said. “It’s unfortunate, but at the same time we’ve got to keep moving. We’ve got to keep our head up. We’ve got to keep grinding.”
Today’s events - good and bad - may have felt improbable, but they fit right into the broader theme of a feast-or-famine season that has left the Nationals hovering just above or just below the .500 mark for months, all the while battling a variety of injuries and other unusual developments.
You want the perfect encapsulation of the 2018 season? Try this on for size: Over the last four days, the Nats outscored their opponents 15-8. Alas, their record over those four days was 1-3.
“That’s baseball,” Martinez said. “And it’s just weird, how things happen. But I know these guys can hit. I do. I believe in them, and they proved it in the last couple innings.”
This scoreless streak wasn’t going to last forever. It was only a matter of time. And the time finally came in the top of the sixth, which began with Turner’s double off the top of the left field fence and Anthony Rendon’s single up the middle. Even then, the Nationals didn’t make it easy. Zimmerman struck out before Soto tapped a slow roller to first base. It wasn’t a hit, but it was enough to bring Turner home and give the visitors their first run (and lead) of the series.
“I ran back into the dugout and I said: ‘We did it, boys!’” Turner said. “At that point, you’ve kind of got to make a little bit of a joke out of it. It’s just nice to get on the board.”
Then came the eighth-inning explosion, which included another impressive plate appearance by Soto, who drew a bases-loaded walk to “drive” in his second run of the afternoon.
Now came one of Martinez’s gutsiest calls of the season. Up two runs in the eighth, the safe play would’ve been to let Michael A. Taylor (4 for his last 33 with 16 strikeouts) bat for himself to ensure the best defensive alignment late in a game. Instead, Martinez sent Bryce Harper up to pinch-hit for Taylor, and immediately was rewarded for it when Harper lashed a double down the right field to clear the bases and extend the lead to five runs.
Calling the decision “very tough,” Martinez explained he would’ve left Taylor in had the Nationals been up three or more runs. Up only two, he felt he needed to prioritze potential offense over defense.
“We need to score some more runs,” the rookie skipper said. “I felt like we needed to score more runs, and Harper was the perfect guy to hit in that situation.”
The floodgates opened after that, leaving the Mets bullpen gasping for air.
Wilmer Difo and Adam Eaton each hit two-run homers in the top of the eighth to complete the eight-run rally. Then Mark Reynolds’ grand slam highlighted a six-run top of the ninth that turned this game, scoreless after five, into a complete laugher.
“I think everybody knew it was coming,” Harper said. “It’s a good possibility to score runs with the team that we have and the lineup that we have. So to be able to have that offensive power and do the things that we were able to do, it’s huge.”
With the specter of the scoreless streak looming from the outset, the Nationals knew they were probably going to need an impressive effort today from Rodriguez, who had made strides in recent outings but had yet to really put it all together in one big league start.
That finally happened today. Despite four walks and a wild pitch, Rodriguez was virtually unhittable when he put the ball in the strike zone. He surrendered a leadoff single to Jay Bruce in the second and a two-out single to Jeff McNeil in the third, but those were the only hits he surrendered during his six innings of work.
Displaying more confidence in his curveball and (especially) changeup than he had in previous starts, Rodriguez got quick outs when he needed them and got a chance to pitch the sixth inning for the first time in the majors.
By the time he walked off the mound after a 97-pitch effort, the lanky right-hander was the recipient of his own round of handshakes and high-fives following the best start of his burgeoning career.
“(Martinez) has confidence in me,” Rodriguez said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “So I felt good.”