The second one, a 402-foot shot to center by Trea Turner, drew some oohs and aahs because it had now extended the Nationals’ lead to two runs in very short order.
The third one, another blast to center by Adam Eaton, was reason for some to drop their jaws and others to boo Padres reliever (and former Nats favorite) Craig Stammen, who was living out a nightmare on the mound at Petco Park.
And then the fourth one, an opposite-field poke to right-center by Anthony Rendon, set off a jubilant celebration in the Nationals dugout, which couldn’t believe what had just happened.
What had been a tense, nip-and-tuck Sunday finale in San Diego had suddenly become a party for the visitors, who rode their back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs to a 5-2 victory that would’ve been important no matter the process but was all the more enjoyable this way.
“We got a great team,” Kendrick said. “We got a lot of good guys who pull for each other, and the atmosphere gets really electric, especially when we go ahead with big hits like that. ... We’re all dancing and having a good time. And that’s what winning is about. Having fun, enjoying it.”
If ever a team earned the right to enjoy itself, this was it. A Nationals club that opened the weekend with back-to-back losses, capped by a gut-punch blown save by Sean Doolittle on Friday night, bounced back to win two in a row and split the series with the Padres. And won today’s finale with style, in historic fashion no less.
“Pretty crazy, that’s for sure,” Rendon said. “It doesn’t happen a lot. We did that a couple years ago, right?”
Yes, indeed they did. As Rendon accurately recalled, the Nationals also did this on July 27, 2017, with Brian Goodwin, Wilmer Difo, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman all taking the Brewers’ Michael Blazak deep in succession in the bottom of the third on South Capitol Street. (After a long flyout by Daniel Murphy, Rendon then also took Blazak deep for the fifth homer of the inning.)
It’s only happened nine times in total in MLB history, and the Nationals - winners, by the way, in 11 of their last 15 - are the only franchise on that list twice, according to Elias Sports. And they did it only 682 days apart from each other.
“If you know how that happened, how you could hit four in a row again, let me know,” Eaton said. “Cause we’ll write a book and we’ll be rich ... You can’t really put your finger on it. But it’s pretty cool to be a part of.”
Today’s barrage came in the span of only seven pitches from Stammen, the former Nationals workhorse who has pitched well the last two seasons for the Padres and was trying to continue a dominant performance by the San Diego bullpen.
Knowing they were going to see a parade of Padres relievers today, the Nationals tried to jump out to a quick lead against “starter” Luis Perdomo. They did get a quick run home in the top of the first, though they did so without benefit of a hit. Ian Kinsler flat-out dropped Turner’s first-pitch popup to second, allowing the leadoff man to reach second base. A couple of productive groundballs by Eaton and Rendon then brought him home.
And so the Nationals once again held a lead. But it was by the slimmest of margins, not to mention only one inning into the game. More offense would be needed.
More offense did not come, though. It didn’t come against Perdomo, who was pulled after 3 1/3 innings and 31 pitches. It didn’t come against left-hander Robbie Erlin, who retired five of the six batters he faced. It didn’t come against right-hander Trey Wingenter, who retired six of the seven batters he faced during the first two-inning appearance of his career.
And so it was up to Strasburg to make that one early run hold up. He did his best, getting quick outs and commanding all three of his pitches. But his defense didn’t help out at times, and that raised his pitch count. And then a tough two-out sequence in the fourth brought home a run.
It began with Franmil Reyes’ single up the middle, which was followed by a wild pitch that allowed him to move into scoring position. And when Kinsler looped a single into shallow center field, Reyes scampered home with the game-tying run.
That’s all Strasburg would allow. He would get out of a fifth-inning by inducing a 6-4-3 double play out of Fernando Tatis Jr. And he would retire the last seven batters he faced, three via strikeout, before getting handshakes in the dugout following a 104-pitch gem.
“If you’re aggressive and going right after them, it’s harder to have a big inning,” Strasburg said his approach today in a low-scoring game. “Focus on getting the first out. It’s obviously a close game, but even if you give up one or two, you have a lot of faith that we’re in striking distance still.”
Sure enough, they were. While many were fretting over who would pitch out of the Nationals overworked bullpen - manager Davey Martinez really wanted to stay away from Tanner Rainey, Wander Suero and Doolittle after their heavy use all week - the lineup decided to take charge and make things easier on the pitching staff.
Kendrick. Turner. Eaton. Rendon. All in succession. All turning a 1-1 nailbiter into a 5-1 lead and reason to party in the dugout.
“If you said four home runs, I would never be in that mix,” Eaton said. “Anywhere. The first one. The last one. In the middle. I was happy that I was in there. A pretty cool experience.”