ATLANTA - The Nationals scored nine runs and collected 17 hits in the first three games of the series, all losses..
But on Sunday, the Nats tallied nine runs on 17 hits with four home runs, scoring early to set the tone, and finally overcame the Braves 9-4. The win ended the Nats’ four-game losing streak and the Braves’ nine-game winning streak. The Nats’ deficit in the National League East has been trimmed to nine games.
Max Scherzer looked to be in midseason form. He pitched unfazed by distractions, aggressive and attacking the hitters all day. Only a Matt Joyce solo shot broke his rhythm.
“Thought I was able to be aggressive with the fastball,” Scherzer said. “The pitch count was up today, 20, 40, 60, 80 (pitches). Kind of the first four innings, but where I was missing with that location, I was hitting the right spot just two inches off.
“So if I was trying to go away I’d miss away two inches off or I was going in two inches off. For me, that’s a good sign in my mechanics that I’m missing where I want to.”
Scherzer would get into a two-on, no-out jam and pitch out of it. Down 3-1 in a count? No problem. Two strikes in a row and the hitter was walking back to his dugout. That intensity is what a signature Scherzer start is about.
“Yeah, full-throttle,” Scherzer said. “From beginning all the way to the end. I felt good even coming out. I was even ready to pitch the seventh inning, really thought I had 110 pitches today.”
In the fifth inning, Trea Turner was ejected by home plate umpire Mike Estabrook on a called third strike. Turner had also been called out on a third strike in his second at-bat. Manager Davey Martinez came out to argue with Estabrook and he was also ejected. Wilmer Difo took over at shortstop. Bench coach Chip Hale took over for Martinez.
“One of the things that is difficult in all these different new ballparks we have is how far the dugouts are from home plate,” Hale said. “At our place, you can get their quick. Some places, it just takes forever and this is one of them.
“This has been a tough series. We’ve lost three against this club that we are chasing and the emotions were running high. Every at-bat is so important to these guys on a personal level, on a team level. So you know that the frustration just starts to build in the heat. The guys are getting fired up as it is. Yeah, you’d rather not have a guy go in that situation.”
Hale said the Nationals couldn’t get to Turner in time to save him. Turner was tossed as he walked away from Estabrook.
“As a manager, you want to try to get out there as best you can,” Hale said. “I thought Davey did. Once he threw him out, Davey went with him. That’s all part of it. The great thing about September is we got a number of guys. Difo has done it. He’s played short here a lot. He did really nice job coming in and filling in.”
Braves starter Mike Soroka (11-4) finished six innings, allowing four runs on seven hits with one walk and seven strikeouts, but all four runs allowed were in the first three frames. The last time he allowed more than three runs in a game was July 20 when he surrendered four runs against the Nats.
In the seventh, against Braves reliever Chad Sobotka, the Nats got another homer from Gomes and an RBI double from Eaton to build a 6-1 lead. Asdrúbal Cabrera drove a two-run double to right field off of A.J. Minter to make it 8-1.
The offense was relentless and it came from all over the batting order. Cabrera had four hits and three RBIs. Eaton, Anthony Rendon, Robles and Gomes all had two hits apiece. Scherzer singled and stole a base in the seventh. The base hit was his ninth of the season.
Scherzer (10-5) pitched six innings, allowing one run on two hits with two walks and nine strikeouts. He fired 98 pitches, 64 for strikes. He threw to Gomes, who started after Kurt Suzuki came down with elbow soreness in the bottom of the seventh inning Saturday night.
“He was tremendous, man. I usually got to see him from the side,” Gomes said of catching Scherzer. “Good to be back there with him, and it shows the kind of guys he is. You know, he kind of puts the team on his back when we need him and he had a great performance.”
The Nats got some more good news after the game when the results of Suzuki’s MRI came back clean, showing only inflammation. Suzuki is listed as day-to-day.
Gomes showed power with his two homers, turning out to be big for the Nats offense. Hale was impressed with all the work Gomes had to do, especially after also starting Saturday night’s affair.
“Obviously, that was huge, two home runs, catching a day game in this heat after a night game, along one last night,” Hale said. “He’s the MVP for today from me.”