- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 21, 2011

BALTIMORE — Music blared through the speakers in the visiting clubhouse at Camden Yards late Friday night, breaking a silence that had seemed to extend for days around the Washington Nationals and their anemic offense.

Finally, for one night, the Nationals found the antidote to all that ails them: the Baltimore Orioles.

In an offensive performance that had been at least 43 games in the making, the Nationals finally made good on their promise from the past few weeks that the hitting would come. In a 17-5 throttling of the Orioles, the Nationals scored more runs than they had in all six of their previous games combined.

“That,” second baseman Danny Espinosa said, “was awesome.”

In 24 hours, the Nationals went from the doldrums of offensive ineptitude — shutout for the second straight game and owners of a 19-inning scoreless streak — to breaking the franchise record in runs scored and home runs in a game (six), tattooing the Orioles for 19 hits, and sending an unbelievable 52 batters to the plate in nine innings.

In one game, the Nationals raised their team batting average by six whole points, going from .223 to .229, and infused more positivity into their clubhouse than they’ve displayed, arguably, all season.

And while there were contributors up and down the lineup — the only starter who didn’t reach base at least once was designated hitter Matt Stairs — the Nationals were led not by veterans like Jayson Werth (3-for-4, two homers) or Laynce Nix (2-for-5, one homer), or Jerry Hairston Jr. (2-for-5, two RBI).

They were led by their No. 7 and No. 8 hitters, two rookies in Espinosa and Wilson Ramos, who combined to go 6-for-8 with two triples, two home runs, seven RBI and both finished just a double shy of a cycle.

All 17 of the Nationals runs, most players said, could be traced back to the second inning when Espinosa waged a 10-pitch at-bat, fouling off five straight pitches in a 2-2 count from Oriole starter Jake Arrieta, and finished it with a three-run homer into the right-field seats.

“It kind of set the tone for the whole game,” Werth said. “For him to have that long at-bat like that, battling, and hitting a three-run homer to get us going, he kind of set the pace. For a rookie player, he really brings a lot to the table. You’ve got to love having him on your team.”

Espinosa, like a lot of the Nationals, came into the game in a prolonged slump. He was hitting just .143 in the month of May (8-for-56) and had seen his average dip six points below the Mendoza line. His timing was off, his swing was long and he was frequently late bringing his bat through the zone.

“Finally I was getting my foot down and my swing was getting shorter,” he said. “It felt good … We need to hit and we showed today what we’re capable of.”

Ramos, who’d been on base via a walk when Espinosa hit his home run, reached base five times and scored each time. After walking, he was hit by a pitch, recorded his first career triple and finally, in the eighth inning, homered. His one regret? Grounding into an inning-ending double play in the ninth and preventing Espinosa from getting a sixth at-bat.

“In that last at-bat, I was looking for my double,” he said with a smile. “But, you know, it didn’t happen.”

The one bit of negativity surrounding the Nationals record-setting night was starter Jason Marquis, who was pulled after allowing five runs on eight hits and three walks in just four innings. He was shown by MASN cameras arguing vehemently with Nationals manager Jim Riggleman to remain in what was, at that point, a one-run game. Even after the Nationals scored six runs in the top of the fifth, Marquis’ night was done — disqualifying him from getting the win.

“I’d say [he was] about as upset as I’ve ever seen a ballplayer,” Riggleman said.

“I can be an emotional guy,” Marquis said. “I was just trying to plead with him to stay in the game. Obviously I didn’t get my way and just let a little emotion out.”

Luckily for the Nationals it was a minor blip on an otherwise remarkable night that they hope could help them leave the offensive futility of the season’s first seven weeks behind.

“This is such a good team,” Espinosa said. “People are going to start seeing how good of a team we are. We’re too good to let this just pass over. We’re going to carry this.”

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