Life on the road in 2020 is nothing like life on the road in 2019. With one exception: The Nationals are still winning.
There may not be fans in the stands or anywhere to go for breakfast, lunch or postgame entertainment, but the Nationals kicked off their delayed first road trip of the season with an all-too-familiar result: a lopsided victory over the Mets.
Two home runs by Asdrúbal Cabrera, a solo shot by Trea Turner and a 463-foot blast by Juan Soto that cleared the big apple behind center field at Citi Field jumpstarted the Nationals on a night when they battered the Mets pitching staff in every conceivable way. Combined with Patrick Corbin’s strong start, they cruised to a 16-4 win, leaving their offensive troubles back on South Capitol Street and reminding themselves how they won a championship one year ago.
Dating to Game 2 of the 2019 National League Division Series, the Nationals have now won 11 consecutive games as the road team. (That includes two games against the homeless Blue Jays this season at Nationals Park.)
This was the first true road game of 2020, the first of 10 straight they’ll play away from home. And in a strange way, there’s a certain comfort to being somewhere other than Washington for a little while.
“We’ve been in D.C. for so long, it just kind of seemed like maybe a continuation of spring training,” Corbin said on a postgame Zoom call. “This could be a way to kind of mix things up. I think it was a good time to get on the road and see what this is all about.”
“Sometimes it’s kind of good to just get away and do something different,” manager Davey Martinez said via Zoom after the game. “I felt that tonight with these guys. We showed up, they took batting practice, they were all bubbly and live and rip-roaring to go. And you saw the way they played. Let’s keep it going.”
There was no place like Citi Field and no opposing starter like Steven Matz to bring out the best of their bats.
Having already beaten Matz in D.C. last week, the Nats took it to a new level tonight. They racked up eight runs against the lefty, who has now surrendered 13 runs, 15 hits and five homers in 7 1/3 innings against Washington in the last week.
And once they knocked Matz from the game in the fifth, the Nationals kept the punishment going against reliever Paul Sewald, who retired only two of 11 batters faced and turned this into the latest Nationals rout of the Mets.
Tonight’s 12-run victory couldn’t match a 15-0 win in 2018, an 18-run win in 2017 or a record-breaking 21-run triumph in 2018. But it joins the list.
“I think it’s really important right now to have those games,” Soto said. “Because it gives you the energy you need. It gives you the adrenaline that you need to keep yourself up, because you don’t have any fans to give you the adrenaline to come through with it.”
Production tonight came from just about everyone in the lineup, but especially Soto and Cabrera, who combined for 19 total bases.
Soto went 3-for-4 with three RBIs and delivered the most jaw-dropping moment of the game when he launched Matz’s third-inning curveball 463 feet to center field, the longest home run of his career and one of the longest in Citi Field’s history.
The big apple beyond the wall didn’t get to show its face tonight until the bottom of the ninth, when Brandon Nimmo hit a meaningless homer off Sean Doolittle. But it nearly had a bite taken out of it by Soto’s blast, which sailed over it.
“I saw where it landed right when I hit it,” the 21-year-old slugger said with a smile. “I followed the ball all the way. I wanted to see if I could get it in the apple. Yeah, I saw it. And it was way far.”
Cabrera didn’t produce one singular moment as impressive as that, but his collective performance was about as good as possible in one ballgame. The veteran infielder homered in the second, doubled in the fourth, doubled in two runs in the fifth, walked in the sixth and then homered again in the seventh. The four extra-base hits were a career high.
Cabrera has been a wrecking crew from the right side of the plate this season. The switch-hitter is now a staggering 8-for-10 with three doubles and two homers versus left-handers.
“I’m seeing the ball pretty well right-handed right now,” he said. “I hope I can change a little bit, too, with my left hand.”
Cabrera celebrated his second homer with a piggyback ride in the dugout from a surprise provider: his manager.
After hitting coach Kevin Long gave Turner a ride following his third-inning homer, the dugout goaded Martinez into giving one himself. The skipper said he’d do it if anyone else homered tonight. Four innings later, Cabrera was hitching a ride on his back.
“It ain’t easy,” Martinez said. “Especially with that mask on.”
“He’s strong, because I weigh 230 (lbs.),” Cabrera said with a laugh. “I don’t know if he’s going to be fine tomorrow, but he’s fine tonight.”
All of that offense made life easy for Corbin, who was really sharp early and had more than enough cushion to warrant some late struggles.
“To see the offense come out like that, those are the games you like to pitch in,” he said.
Corbin retired 12 of the first 14 batters he faced, cruising through four scoreless innings on 45 pitches. He got out of a fifth-inning jam, but couldn’t keep the shutout intact in the sixth, when two runs (one unearned) crossed the plate.
His starter’s pitch count was only 87, but Martinez didn’t feel the need to push Corbin any further. He summoned Wander Suero for the seventh and eighth, then gave Doolittle a chance to begin to right his wayward ship in the bottom of the ninth.
Doolittle served up a leadoff homer to Nimmo, but he bounced back to record three flyouts and perhaps get a smidge of confidence back at the end of a night when everything else went right for the Nationals on the road.
“We’ve got to get him out there,” Martinez said. “We’ve got to get him going. We need him. I saw some things that were a little bit better. We’ll do it again when we can. But he’s got to pitch. He’s got to go out there and get some innings in.”