Gomes’ slide, then Ankiel’s grand slam key Nationals’ 9-3 rout of Braves

Washington Nationals center fielder Rick Ankiel follows through on his grand slam during the fourth inning against the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday. The Nationals won 9-3. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)Washington Nationals center fielder Rick Ankiel follows through on his grand slam during the fourth inning against the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday. The Nationals won 9-3. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
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The slide was more suited for second base, a takeout slide on a potential routine double play from the looks of it. Only it happened at home plate and the man on the ground trying to gain his bearings was Atlanta Braves catcher David Ross — not a middle infielder.

Jonny Gomes had just executed the play that was considered the turning point of the game, drawing the Nationals to within 3-2.

As John Lannan sent a bouncer to first base in the fourth inning with the bases loaded, the newest National came barreling home. Gomes slid feet-first in front of home plate, taking the feet of Ross out from under him, and smacked his right hand on home plate.

Gomes’ slide did exactly what it was supposed to do: prevent an easy, inning-ending double play. Three pitches later, Rick Ankiel launched a grand slam to straightaway center field — his third home run in the last two games — to give the Nats a 6-3 lead that would grow to 9-3 in their fourth straight victory.

“This is my kind of game,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “I haven’t had any here. I’ve been here five weeks, and I’ve been waiting for one like this.

“This is what this club is capable of doing. Everybody starts getting that fever, that hit fever, and it’s fun. But the talent’s been here.”

When the dust had settled, Ankiel’s homer was the headliner on a night that featured Ian Desmond’s first since April 28 — a two-run shot in the fifth — and Michael Morse’s 18th, a solo blast in the sixth. In total, the Nationals had 14 hits.

Washington tagged Derek Lowe for eight runs on 10 hits in four innings. He was chased before making an out in the fifth — allowing a triple to Gomes and Desmond’s homer before being taken out.

The nine-run outburst was the first since the Nationals lost to the Chicago Cubs 10-9 on July 7 after blowing their biggest lead in franchise history. It was the Nationals’ fourth-largest output of the year. All nine batters in the starting lineup reached base, four recorded an RBI, five an extra-base hit. Even some of the late-inning replacements got in on the action with Brian Bixler picking up the second triple of his career in the seventh.

And almost all of it traced back to Gomes‘ slide — the precursor to an explosion foreign to the Johnson era.

“Absolutely,” Desmond said, when asked if Gomes‘ slide was a turning point. “Absolutely. Get the next guy to the plate and anything’s possible. If he doesn’t take him out right there like that, that might be a double play. Changes the momentum totally.”

“A situation like that — bases loaded coming in from third — your mentality is almost like breaking up two at second,” Gomes said. “You’re not playing for yourself. That’s just instant unselfishness. … We had a second-deck [opposite-field] homer from Morse, we had two triples, we got our pitcher to put the ball in play and when you’re athletic like that, things are going to happen. When the ball’s rolling your way, you can continue it and roll it.”

The Nationals have been waiting for most of the season for their offense to gel. Over their last eight games, the Nationals’ starters (considering Gomes and Laynce Nix in left field as one) have combined for a .305 batting average. They’ve hit eight homers and won their last four straight.

John Lannan was the subplot on a night in which threw 6 1/3 innings, allowed three earned runs and struck out a season-high eight batters.

Lannan, who was disappointed in himself for walking four batters last Thursday against the Florida Marlins, walked one against the Braves. He threw 72 percent of his 110 pitches for strikes, the highest percentage he’s thrown all season (not counting the 3 1/3 innings thrown in the injury-shortened start against the Colorado Rockies on July 8).

“After getting hit in the face, I walked 12 guys in three games,” Lannan said. “I told you guys last week it was unacceptable. I knew I had to put the work in, and I told you guys that and I did that. I told myself I had to pound the zone no matter what and trust myself and I got back to that today.”

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