There have been precious few of these – genuine laughers – during the course of the season, certainly over the last month-plus as the Nationals have needed to scratch and claw their way to any win they could secure.
The Nats hadn’t won a game by more than four runs since Aug. 11 against the Athletics. They hadn’t won a game by more than six runs since July 22 against the Giants. They hadn't won a game by 10 or more runs since April 29, 2022.
So consider this afternoon’s 13-3 thumping of the White Sox a much-needed, well-deserved walk in the park. A team that has looked like it’s running on fumes down the stretch of the season finally had an opportunity to enjoy a victory that was firmly in their grasp the entire way.
"It's great anytime we can score some runs early, score a lot of runs and pitch well," first baseman Dominic Smith said. "Those games are fun. Those are my favorite games."
In the process today, the Nationals secured their 18th series victory of the season, six more than they managed during their nightmare of a 55-107 campaign in 2022. With nine games left on schedule, but all coming against the teams with the two best records in baseball in the Braves and Orioles, it was imperative to lock up wins No. 67 and 68 against the White Sox now to make the path to 70 by season’s end a bit more palatable.
"I think it shows we're just getting a little bit better each year," right fielder Lane Thomas said. "It's something to build off of. Hopefully, we can get a few more than that over the next week, 10 days and come back to spring training ready to improve on this season."
The Nats had to battle back for a 4-3 victory Tuesday night, getting a late, pinch-hit homer from Joey Meneses. There was no such need for late-game heroics today, because this oft-powerless lineup put together a whole bunch of good swings early on to seize control right from the outset.
And none of those swings were as mighty as the one put forth by Thomas with the bases loaded in the bottom of the third.
One night after he twice failed to drive in a runner from third and thrice made outs on the first pitch of an at-bat, Thomas showed far more patience at the plate. He didn’t take a swing in either of his first two plate appearances, yet still reached base twice (once by hit-by-pitch, one by four-pitch walk).
"The at-bats have been a little quick, and I've been putting pitches I shouldn't into play," he said. "It's the end of the year. You get a little complacent."
Perhaps some constructive criticism from his wife, Chase, helped a bit as well.
"I got in the car last night and was kind of in a bad mood," he said. "And she was like: 'Suck it up and stop swinging at those pitches!' It was kind of surprising that came out of her mouth. I can't have her yelling at me after the game."
So Thomas waited for the right pitch to swing at this time. With a 1-0 count and the bases loaded, he saw a hanging curveball from right-hander Jesse Scholtens and made the proper decision to put everything he had into his first swing of the day, launching the ball to left for a no-doubt grand slam.
Thomas, who would draw another four-pitch walk his next time up, now has 84 RBIs on the season. As manager Davey Martinez pointed out this morning, the right fielder would have a real shot at 100 if not for his bases-loaded struggles (1-for-13) until today.
"If you notice, he swings at the first pitch almost every time there's guys on base," Martinez said. "He's got to understand what he wants to do. Look, you've got to be comfortable hitting behind in the count with guys on base, or with two strikes. You've got to have a plan. ... He's had a tremendous year, on both sides. Defensively. Offensively. But he can get better."
The grand slam left Thomas in a temporary tie with Meneses for the team lead in RBIs, but Meneses seized that lead right back two innings later when he blasted a two-run homer to left, his 13th of the season and second in as many days.
Smith also continued his late-season power surge, connecting for his 11th homer of the season, fifth this month. Add a two-double, two-walk, two-RBI afternoon for CJ Abrams, and the Nationals had themselves a well-balanced attack that produced runs in each of the game’s first five innings.
"I always say this: We want to score first every day," Martinez said. "It's good to come out and jump out, score in bunches and let the guys relax and watch them play. Today was a perfect example. They relaxed a little bit, and we got some big hits."
All of that run support was much appreciated by Josiah Gray, who didn’t necessarily need it but took full advantage, nonetheless. The right-hander, coming off his best start in weeks (zero walks, 10 strikeouts at Pittsburgh), wasn’t as dominant but he remained as effective.
The White Sox plated just one run against Gray, via a walk, double and sacrifice fly in the top of the second. Otherwise, he took the big lead his teammates gave him and ran with it, tossing five innings of one-run ball on 91 pitches before calling it a day.
With his ERA down to exactly 4.00, Gray should have one more start next week to finish a roller coaster season that included an All-Star selection but a difficult second half on a high note.
"I think the first goal is to stay healthy, but then you want to perform," he said. "You want to go out there every outing and put the team in a position to win. The last two outings, I've been able to do that. It's been a lot of fun to come to the clubhouse. We have an upbeat mood. We're trying to finish strong. And to feel like I'm doing my part always feels fulfilling."