In their resounding 9-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs (51-85) , the Washington Nationals (83-52) did so much so well and, as they seem to do every night, performed still more rare and first-time feats of baseball prowess.
Nationals fans, feast your eyes on tonight’s accomplishments:
- Adam LaRoche (3-4, 3 RBI) hit his 28th home run and reached base on his first four plate appearances, giving him nine consecutive times on base, including 4 home runs. His streak finally ended in the 7th inning when Cubs’ relief pitcher Alberto Cabrera struck him out with the bases loaded.
- The Nationals clubbed six more home runs, giving them 12 in the past two games. Tonight, LaRoche, Roger Bernadina, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa went deep and Bryce Harper hit two. Last night marked the first time a Washington team had ever hit six in a game. It took a single game to match that feat. How rare was the Nats’ second consecutive power display? Since 1918, only three teams have hit 6 homers in back-to-back games — the 1996 Los Angeles Dodgers, the 2003 Anaheim Angels and the 2012 Washington Nationals. Twice, the Nationals hit home runs on consecutive pitches. The 2007 New York Yankees, the only team to top this, hit 13. (Thanks to CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman and Amanda Comark, of the Washington Times, for this data!)
- Gio Gonzalez, coming off the first complete game shutout of his career, nearly did one better, holding the struggling Chicago nine without a hit for the first five innings. Darwin Barney‘s single to begin the Cubs’ 6th broke up Gonzalez’s bid for the Nationals first no hitter. Nevertheless, Gonzalez pitched masterfully, escaping a 7th inning jam to throw seven shutout innings. His allowed just three hits, no walks, and struck out nine to earn his 18th win, a career best and the most wins for any Nationals’ pitcher.
- The Nats won their 84th game and maintained their 7.5 game lead over the second place Atlanta Braves, who defeated the Colorado Rockies tonight, 1-0.
Washington struck early as LaRoche’s 2-out RBI single scored Bernadina, starting in centerfield to give Jayson Werth a day off. As Gonzalez cruised, the Nationals broke the game open in the 3rd inning. Cubs’ starter Chris Volstad (2-10) left pitches up in the zone and three got hammered into the Nationals Park bleachers. The Nationals led, 5-0, an insurmountable lead the way Gonzalez was spotting his fastball and some of the best curveballs he’s thrown all year long.
Chicago relivers Michael Bowden and Blake Parker fared little better than Volstad, surrendering three more round trippers and four runs. Craig Stammen relieved Gonzalez and, after a highlight reel catch by Bernadina to rob Dave Sappelt of an extra base hit to begin the 9th, allowed Anthony Rizzo‘s 11th home run of the season.
While Rizzo’s blast ended the shutout, it marked a mere blip on the radar of another fantastic display of winning baseball by the first-place Washington Nationals.
Champs of the Game: LaRoche, for continuing his hot hitting and his extraordinary nine consecutive times on base, shares the honor with the incomparable Gio Gonzalez, perhaps Mike Rizzo’s best offseason move.
For the Cubs, little but Rizzo’s home run went right.
Chump of the Game: No one for the Nats, who are playing their best baseball of the season, making the recent 5-game losing streak seems like eons ago.
Volstad pitched poorly and showed some frustration by buzzing Ryan Zimmerman and Gonzalez with high and tight fastballs. His ERA is now an unsightly 6.23.
Unsung Hero: In an example of how complete the Nats’ win was tonight, Harper gets the honor for his two home runs. The 19-year old phenom now has 17 for the season.
Next Game: Tomorrow, September 6, 7:05 at Nationals Park. Washington goes for a sweep of the four-game series with Chicago as Jordan Zimmermann (9-8, 3.01) faces Justin Germano (2-5, 5.52). Fans will be watching closely to see if Zimmermann’s last two starts, both poor outings, are a short detour or cause for greater concern.