As the Washington Nationals milled about their dugout late Tuesday night, with the luxury of a cushy lead over the Chicago Cubs in an 11-5 victory, they allowed themselves to wonder what their closest competition was up to. They glanced out at the out-of-town scoreboard in right field and noticed the Atlanta Braves were losing.
And just like the sight of the six different home runs they hit — and the 19 total hits and the 11 for extra-bases — it was pleasing.
"When you start seeing the number of games you need to win and they need to lose, you start peeking up there," admitted first baseman Adam LaRoche, whose two home runs and 4-for-4 day led the Nationals' sizzling offensive attack.
The Nationals bombed their way to their 83rd victory Tuesday night. They hit the Cubs' pitchers with an offensive barrage that reached the upper-echelon of their performances this season and, in doing so, kept themselves on pace to win 100 games this season. They lowered their magic number to win the National League East to 20.
It was the fifth time this season they'd scored 11 runs or more and just the third time with 19 or more hits in a game. Every member of the starting lineup had at least one hit, and it seemed as if all of them had a home run, too, as the team set a record for the most home runs ever hit by a D.C. baseball team at home. Jayson Werth was 4-for-4. Danny Espinosa was 2-for-4. Even starter Edwin Jackson added two hits in three at-bats.
"It was definitely a fun night," said rookie Tyler Moore, getting a rare start and crushing his seventh home run of the season. "It doesn't happen like that all the time."
They chased Cubs starter Chris Rusin after just an inning, knocking him out after the first four batters in the second reached, and they didn't let up on the parade of relievers that poured out of the Cubs' bullpen after him. They homered in the first, second, fourth and sixth innings to put a game that while never wholly comfortable as the Cubs' offense kept plugging, was rather firmly out of reach in the early going.
Since the Nationals ended a five-game losing streak a week ago, they're 6-1 and are averaging over seven runs per game. They've raised their collective batting average from .256 to .261 in that span.
"Having guys up and down the lineup who can swing the bat, everybody coming together, this is something we were thinking about in spring training," LaRoche said. "We knew we were capable of doing it. Unfortunately we had some injuries and some streakiness this year. But we haven't had a six, seven-game outburst like this where we go out and score 18 runs. It's nice. We owe the starting pitchers for what they did the first couple months."
The first home run was a milestone. The 20th home run hit by Nationals' shortstop Ian Desmond this season sailed into the right field seats before a single batter had made an out Tuesday night. The second, struck by Jesus Flores and sent into the first row of Red Porch seats in center field, keyed a three-run second inning that gave the Nationals a five-run lead they'd never fully relinquish.
"It goes back to when you get a lot of guys going, you see better pitches," LaRoche said. "There's nobody really to pitch around because you've got somebody dangerous on-deck."
Even someone like Moore, who hadn't started since Aug. 26, can step in and display power so startling even he had to admire it. Moore, whose two-run shot followed LaRoche's first home run in the fourth, paused for a moment at home plate as his hit traveled to the far reaches of the left field seats at Nationals Park.
"I was more surprised than anything," Moore said with a laugh. "I didn't know what happened."
By the time LaRoche hit his second of the game — and 27th of the season — the Nationals were content to know that a 7½ game lead in the NL East was theirs.
"That was good," Desmond said. "We know we're capable of hitting the ball out of the ballpark. It's just good to see that guys are barreling the balls up, kind of as a unit. We played well today. ... (But) we plan on coming out tomorrow and playing a good clean game."
"We're one step closer to our goal," LaRoche added. "We're in position."
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