There are weeks in each baseball season that test a team’s resolve, where it feels like the baseball gods have conspired against them, doing battle with every bad break, nasty starting pitcher or unfortunate injury possible. This has been the epitome of one of those weeks for the Nationals.
They’d scored just seven runs in their last six losses, failing to score a run in three of those games and slipping to a season-worst 21 games below .500 on Friday. That was the night after the Nationals resigned themselves to the reality they would spend the rest of this year and most of next year without Stephen Strasburg, the young ace who, in his 2 1/2 months in the majors, had dished out as much hope as heat.
What the Nationals needed was a win, but more than that, they needed an energizing win, like baseball’s version of primal-scream therapy. They needed a night where 30.688 fans packed into Nationals Park to watch a rowdy, beer-league softball-style contest between a playoff contender and a last-place team with some rage to dispense. Their 14-5 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals delivered on all those fronts.
Seven starters had base hits, playing out of the oddest lineup manager Jim Riggleman has put on the field this year. Six of them had more than one. Players got ejected from the dugout and coaches got tossed from the field after not one, but two interference calls. Adam Dunn delivered five RBI, and Livan Hernandez, despite a subpar night, got paid back a win from those seven-inning no-decisions he took with regularity early this year.
Yep, this got the job done.
Said outfielder Michael Morse: “We needed a win. Bad.”
The Nationals’ win over the Cardinals wasn’t as lopsided as the final score appeared; the two teams traded blows throughout the night until the Nationals finally dropped a six-run haymaker in the eighth. That was probably good, because a blowout wouldn’t have gotten the Nationals’ dander up like this one did.
When Ian Desmond was called out for stepping outside the running lane at first base in the third inning, negating the two runs the Nationals scored on pitcher Kyle Lohse’s throwing error and sending Livan Hernandez and Adam Kennedy back to their bases, chaos broke loose. First-base coach Dan Radison started arguing with umpire Rob Drake. Third-base coach Pat Listach jawed with umpire Angel Hernandez. Joe West - everyone’s favorite umpiring enigma - came over from second base and got into it with Radison and Riggleman. And pitcher Scott Olsen was tossed for talking from the dugout.
No matter. The Nationals roared back with three more hits in the inning, getting back both of the runs the call took off the board - and two more for their trouble.
Dunn drove in two runs in the inning, and blasted a three-run homer in the fifth, busting out of an 8-for-65 slump and hitting his first home run in nearly three weeks. And the Nationals’ six-run ninth could have been bigger; Nyjer Morgan was called out at home plate after a collision with catcher Bryan Anderson took him off course. He didn’t touch home plate, and when his teammates told him to go back, Ivan Rodriguez pushed Morgan back toward home. That meant Morgan was out.
Asked what the umpire told him, Morgan said: “I don’t know. I was kind of yelling, trying to figure out what was going on.”
That fit the night perfectly, when winning wasn’t going to be enough. No, it needed to be loud, bawdy and a little ragged. And it was.
“The best way I can really say it was, it was fun,” Desmond said. “We all went out there and we had a great time tonight, and played another great ballgame. It’s not easy taking down the Cardinals, and when you can put 14 runs up on them, it feels really good.”