IDEAL LINEUP FINALLY PLAYS, WINS
The Washington Nationals were so befouled by the injury bug this season it took four months and 123 games for them to field their ideal “opening day” lineup. When their starting nine took the field Tuesday night against the San Diego Padres, the Nationals put everything together for a 8-3 win.
Stephen Strasburg started Tuesday night, and from the end of the second through to the end of the sixth, retired 15 straight batters. He did surrender a two-run bomb to Jedd Gyorko, a no-doubt homer into the visiting bullpen in the second inning, but other than that, Strasburg was on his game against the Padres. Aside from the mistake to Gyorko, Strasburg struck out 7, and walked one in six full, giving up two earned runs on two hits.
The Nationals tied it up almost immediately, as Wilson Ramos hit his 11th homer of the year off James Shields in the bottom of the second with Yunel Escobar aboard. In the third, the Nationals would go ahead for the night on an Escobar double down the line, scoring Anthony Rendon, and add to the damage in the fifth with a Desmond double scoring Bryce Harper.
The Nationals caught a lucky break in the sixth to break the game wide open. With two outs, Anthony Rendon started the rally with an infield single that deflected off James Shields. Marc Rzepczynski took over for Shields at this point, as the deflection and 121 pitches on the day were too much to risk leaving Shields in to face the heart of the order.
This is where it all went to hell for San Diego. With the count at 2-1, Bryce Harper hit a 92mph sinker down the first base line, right to Padres’ first baseman Yonder Alonso, who stepped on the bag, and it should have ended the inning.
But it didn’t.
Harper tripped out of the swing, and home plate umpire David Rackley read it as a foul ball off Harper’s foot. He called it a foul ball, and Harper stepped back in. Padres skipper Pat Murphy took some umbrage at the situation, but due to the way that the replay rules are written, had no play he could challenge. Play continued. Harper drew a walk.
Escobar would walk right after Harper, and the bases were now loaded for Ryan Zimmerman. With a 2-0 count, Rzepczynski leaned on a 96mph fastball down the groove, which Zimmerman deposited in the right field bleachers, giving the Nationals an 8-2 lead on the umpires’ mistake.
Jedd Gyorko added a second home run off Casey Janssen in the seventh, which triggered a bit of a meltdown from Padres’ skipper Pat Murphy. Former Nationals’ prospect Derek Norris singled his way aboard, and that was all Murphy could take. He should have the winning run at the plate in Melvin Upton, but instead he’s down five. He expressed his deep and abiding frustration and his contention that Harper should have been out.
But he expressed that in a way that managers are not suffered to do so for long. Rackley ejected Murphy for his commentary before Murphy had even come to the top step of the dugout. Of course, Murphy ran out to vehemently express his disapproval of Rackley, Rackley’s mother, Rackley’s mother’s dog, and the neighbor’s goat, though it’s not immediately clear what the goat had to do with it, before being talked back into the visiting clubhouse.
Janssen would complete the seventh without further damage.
The bullpen had a bit of a scare in the eighth, sending Matt Thornton to the hill. The Padres (save for Jedd Gyorko) had more success against Thornton in a third of an inning than they had against anyone else all night. Singles from Yangervis Solarte and pinch hitter Clint Barmes chased Thornton from the game with one out in the seventh.
Blake Treinen mopped things up with a quick round-the-horn double play to end the threat in the eighth, and would retire the side in order in the ninth to end the Padres’ day.
For a moment, Nats fans across the country could take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy a fun night at the ballpark. This was the team that they had waited to see, one that could hit you just as hard in the eight slot (Ramos, 1-for-3, HR, BB) as it could in the six slot (Zimmerman, 1-for-5, HR, 4 RBI), or the three slot (Rendon, 2-for-5, 2 R, 2 H).
For one night this season, the Nationals looked as-advertised. With only 38 games to go, they’ll need to look it every one of those nights.
HERO: Ryan Zimmerman, for his grand slam in the sixth, and Stephen Strasburg for a shutdown performance.
GOAT: No official goat tonight, just old man fate for keeping this team starcrossed for four months.
Zimmerman’s Grand Slam in the sixth was the Nationals’ second all year. It was Zimmerman’s first since 2013, and fifth in his career.
Per Nationals PR, the Nats are hitting .487 (19-for-39) with 20 RBI when batting with two outs since Saturday night.
NEXT UP: Nationals vs. Padres, 7:05pm Wednesday, Tyson Ross (8-9, 3.32) vs Gio Gonzalez (9-6, 3.98).