Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Wilson Ramos and Anthony Rendon all homered in the series finale with the New York Mets today in Citi Field. At the end of the four-game set with the Washington Nationals' NL East rivals, the visiting Nats had hit 13 HRs in a ballpark that was once considered "unfair to hitters" before they altered its dimensions. It was quite a power display from the Nationals, who won their fourth straight in NY, their sixth straight overall, their eighth in the last ten, 21st of their last 30. You get the point. They're on a roll.
"Everybody in the lineup has got power, maybe with the exception of [Denard] Span," Davey Johnson said after the Nats' 7-2 win on Thursday. "But we haven't been as aggressive. We're getting more aggressive. That was what I was harping on early in the year. We need to swing the bats, early in the count, try to do some damage. And the message took a long time to get there, but it's finally getting there." Too late though?
With the win on Thursday afternoon, the Nationals pulled with 5.5 games (5 back in the loss column) of the second Wild Card spot currently held by the Cincinnati Reds, who had the day off. The Nationals' 70-year-old skipper isn't conceding anything yet, however, and as he explained this afternoon, no one on the team is giving up hope.
"Stranger things have happened in the past," Johnson said, "And I take nothing for granted. And nobody else does either. We've got a good homestand to keep things going. Ten days. A lot can happen in those ten days."
The Nationals start a three-game set with Philadelphia tomorrow, then it's three with Atlanta and three with Miami in the final regular season series of the year in Washington, D.C. Thanks to his leadoff double in the eighth, Denard Span will be starting the final homestand with a 23-game hit streak going.
The Nationals are 17-6 over the course of Span's streak. Johnson told reporters today that he didn't think it was a coincidence.
"He's the catalyst," Johnson said. "Your leadoff guy is always the catalyst. Last year, with [Werth] my right fielder who's on fire right now, he led off most of the year and he set the tone. And that's what's happening now with Span. Guys were more excited when he kept that hitting streak alive... I mean, you should have seen the bench. They were up and yelling and whatever, so he's key and he keeps going, we're going to keep going."
Tanner Roark kept going, winning his 6th game in 11 appearances at the major league level with a six inning, rain-interrupted outing in which he gave up six hits and two earned runs. "I've seen him sharper," Johnson admitted. "It was kind of a wet day and had that delay in there, but I thought he made pitches when he had to and I figured he was probably going to be able to go 80-90 [pitches], but with that hour delay in there, I cut him short."
After Roark it was Craig Stammen, Xavier Cedeno and Ryan Mattheus finishing up the win. Cedeno, in particular, who threw an eight-pitch, eight-strike, 1-2-3 eighth, impressed his manager for the second straight game. "He looks good," the Nats' skipper said, "I think he's struck out [Daniel] Murphy like four times or something now. Where was he all year when I needed him?"
"He was in Triple-A," a reporter responded.
"We had him," Johnson joked, "somebody dropped the ball. I like what I'm seeing there."
The Nationals' manager didn't like what he saw from the Mets in the eighth, however. After Denard Span and Ryan Zimmerman hit back-to-back doubles, Mets' reliever Frank Francisco fell behind Jayson Werth 3-0 before drilling the Nats' outfielder in the numbers. The reliever's motivation?
"Who the heck knows?," Johnson said. "We had the same thing with [Julio] Teheran. You don't know what's going on. [Francisco] was wild, the ball was going all over the place, but I thought our guys handled it well. We didn't overreact to it. But I'm sure -- that guy's a little goofy out there anyway. He was looking over at our bench and chatting at our bench. It's a good thing we don't see him again."
The Nationals did respond though. Jayson Werth went in hard and late at second on a force play in the next at bat and Bryce Harper followed suit, making Mets' shortstop Ruben Tejada pay for their pitcher's transgression.
"The second baseman knew they were coming," Johnson said, "That's just good baseball." And a good road trip, which the Nationals finished 8-2.
• AUDIO: Nats Nightly w/ Dave Nichols from the District Sports Page And FBB's Doghouse:
AUDIO: #Nats Nightly = @NationalsDSP + @federalbaseball + FBB's Doghouse talking #Nats' sweep, HBP on Werth, ZIM!1!: http://t.co/xEKoxU6iHu— federalbaseball (@federalbaseball) September 12, 2013
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