LOS ANGELES – Luis García skipped out of the batter’s box, looked toward the Nationals dugout and yelled with delight. One inning later, Keibert Ruiz took his time leaving the box, making sure the ball really was going to leave the park, before turning toward his teammates, pounding his chest and letting out a primal scream of his own.
At the end of a long road trip that saw way more well-struck balls die at the warning track than clear the fence, two months into a season that has seen far too few blasts from one of the majors’ least-home-run-hitting lineups, the Nats finally won a game not on the strength of their pitching, their defense or their ability to string together a bunch of singles.
No, this 10-6 victory over the Dodgers was characterized above all else by power. Lots of it.
The Nationals launched five homers on a gray, 65-degree L.A. afternoon. Two of them were produced by Ruiz, who had already homered during Tuesday night’s loss against his former organization. The biggest, though, came off the bat of García, whose three-run shot down the right field line in the top of the eighth gave his team the lead for good and served as the emotional high point of a game that featured all manner of wild, back-and-forth moments.
"We came with a good atmosphere today," said third baseman Jeimer Candelario, who homered himself and reached base four times. "The guys wanted to have a happy fight. We're going to D.C. It's a long flight. You don't want to lose that game and then (take) that long flight."
The Nationals almost blew a golden opportunity to break a 5-5 deadlock in the eighth. With runners on second and third and nobody out, CJ Abrams ran himself into an out on Ildemaro Vargas’ grounder to second and Lane Thomas struck out looking.
Then García was down to his last strike when he turned on Brusdar Graterol’s 0-2 slider several inches beyond the inner edge of the strike zone and launched it down the right field line for a booming, three-run homer. As García started making his way down the first base line, he looked into the visiting dugout and howled with delight as the Dodger Stadium crowd of 36,552’s booed with gusto.
"Great emotions," García said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "You get to look at the dugout and see how excited your teammates are. As a team, we always battle and don't give up. Just to see us in that moment be able to do that job, and see the emotions of my teammates ... it's very exciting."
That blast would’ve been enough to secure the win, but Ruiz made sure there was no chance for any more drama when he connected off Phil Bickford in the top of the ninth for his second homer of the afternoon, his third in less than 24 hours.
"It feels really good," Ruiz said. "Especially in that moment, we can get those two runs to give us a little bit of space there, it feels great."
Those homers were vital to the Nationals’ cause on a day when a well-rested bullpen had to give a little extra to finish off the victory.
Davey Martinez didn’t use his top relievers Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, citing the need to rest all three of them after asking so much of them in previous days. He had no reason to summon any of them Monday or Tuesday nights at Dodger Stadium, not with the Nationals losing comfortably to the uber-talented home club.
So when the time came this afternoon, Martinez had no reason to hold any of those guys back. With his team leading, and with a day off Thursday, the Nats manager entrusted the final four innings of the series finale to the well-rested trio of Carl Edwards Jr., Kyle Finnegan and Hunter Harvey and hoped for the best.
Edwards did his job in a scoreless sixth, though he still had to pitch his way out of a bases-loaded jam. Finnegan made a mess of the seventh, allowing a run to score after issuing a walk thanks to a ball four clock violation, then allowing an uncontested stolen base. He returned to open the eighth, only to serve up Mookie Betts’ second homer of the day on his first pitch, prompting Davey Martinez to summon Harvey for what proved to be a six-out, 34-pitch save.
"Really just tried to stay loose in the dugout in between innings," Harvey said of his heaviest workload of the season. "Other than that, the mentality's the same."
All of this came long after the Nationals spotted the Dodgers a 3-0 lead in the first.
The last time Patrick Corbin pitched here, things didn’t go particularly well. Which is a kind way of pointing out he didn’t even make it out of the first inning, getting unceremoniously yanked after allowing six runs on seven hits and a walk while throwing a whopping 45 pitches.
So when the same scenario began playing out this afternoon, the Dodgers busting out to a 3-0 lead via Betts and Will Smith homers sandwiched around Freddie Freeman’s single, it was not unreasonable to wonder if Corbin was about to get yanked before recording three outs here yet again.
To his credit, the left-hander righted his ship in short order and actually managed to salvage a respectable start out of that early mess. He still allowed 11 batters to reach, four via walk, but the only other run that scored off him was unearned (a result of García’s third-inning error).
"You just try to go as deep as you can," Corbin said. "So getting through five there, I thought, was huge. And the offense was able to put up a couple runs."
As that was all playing out, Corbin’s teammates indeed were getting those runs back, plus one more to take the lead. They did so by doing what they did Tuesday night: Making loud contact in the air. The difference 18 hours later: The ball traveled just a bit farther in the daytime, turning loud outs into homers.
Ruiz, who did homer in Tuesday’s loss, did it again today, launching a Noah Syndergaard fastball to center for a two-out homer in the top of the second. The former Dodgers prospect barely had time to don the powdered wig and celebrate in the Nats dugout before Abrams duplicated the feat, launching Syndergaard’s 1-1 pitch to right-center for back-to-back jacks.
"I've been hitting the ball hard, and I wasn't getting the results that I wanted," Ruiz said. "But I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing, control what I can control. Keep working out in the gym, working on my routine. The results are going to be there if I control what I can control."
Candelario took over from there. The 29-year-old third baseman delivered a two-out RBI single in the third to tie the game at 3-3. Two innings later, he belted a changeup from Syndergaard deep to right-center for the two-run homer that gave the Nationals their first lead of the afternoon.
Having somehow gotten Corbin through the fifth with his team ahead, Davey Martinez finally had a chance to deploy his top relievers for the first time since Saturday. Well rested or not, though, the task of producing four scoreless innings against the Dodgers to protect a one-run lead was a heavy one.
Thanks to a long-awaited power display from their own lineup, the Nationals made sure the bullpen’s task was just a little bit easier.
"Big home runs today," Davey Martinez said. "Big home runs. All in all, the at-bats have been good. We've been hitting the ball hard. Let's continue to do that."