VIERA, Fla. — Ian Desmond was first. The Nationals’ leadoff man saw one pitch, a ball, from Mets starter and top prospect Matt Harvey on Sunday afternoon before turning on the next one.
And with his first home run of the spring deposited safely over the left field wall, he left the gate open for the rest of the Nationals’ offense to come stampeding through.
Danny Espinosa doubled, Ryan Zimmerman doubled and Jayson Werth — who said later he came into this spring feeling “maybe the best I’ve ever felt,” — hit one so far over everything in left field that the word from the groundscrew was it took out Werth’s own truck.
“Folklore,” for now, Werth said.
“That thing was crushed,” added Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “That’s the hardest ball I’ve seen him hit since I’ve been here.”
And that was just before one out had been recorded in the first inning.
Johnson had promised it was coming. He asked repeatedly not to read too much into his team’s spring performance of late, not to worry that they weren’t scoring runs or were on an 0-10-1 skid.
His main healthy position players were coming along. They were showing good signs offensively, even as the losses with less-than-half-full lineups continued to pile up. When the Nationals walked off the field after a 12-3 drubbing to the Orioles on Saturday, Johnson was quick to point out that the regulars they’d brought on the trip all had hits.
Wait until Sunday, he urged everyone. Sunday we’ll turn things on.
Twelve runs, 17 hits — including four home runs — later and Johnson looked more soothsayer than manager. Twelve Nationals had at least one at-bat on Sunday and five of them (Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Ryan Zimmerman, Werth and Roger Bernadina) had multi-hit games, including a 3-for-6 day from Espinosa and 3-for-5 afternoon from Zimmerman.
“Told ya it’d be different!” Johnson shouted as he walked past a group of reporters immediately after the game.
“I think, to a man, we were tired of getting whooped up on,” Johnson said. “Big time.”
Bernadina and Chad Tracy also got into the longball action, the Nationals’ offensive explosion seemingly making mere footnote out of Stephen Strasburg’s scoreless five innings.
These games don’t matter — in case that hasn’t been pointed out enough yet — but judging by the high spirits after Sunday’s game, winning the way the Nationals did, in the game Johnson had been pointing to as the start of the “more telling” period for the team, was still important, and fun.
“I think skipper wanted to win today and I think we had a little extra giddyup today when we came out to play,” Werth said. “Our lineup, for the most part, was in there. We have a good time playing with each other and good chemistry so I think we had a little extra hop in our step. We wanted to win today and get skipper of the schneid, so to speak.”
“I guess the best way to put it is: It’s better to win meaningless games than lose meaningless games,” said Ryan Zimmerman.