DENVER — Amidst the elation in the Washington Nationals’ dugout Tuesday night, among the high-fives and the head slaps and the relaxed joy that had been absent the past few games, Adam LaRoche grabbed Tyler Moore and offered him a stern message.
Moore had just sent his third career home run more than halfway up the stands in left center at Coors Field to bust open the Nationals’ lead en route to their 12-5 victory over the Colorado Rockies. LaRoche had already homered once, a solo home run that began the scoring. He was standing on third when Moore launched his three-run shot in the fifth inning.
Sure. Why not? For a Nationals team that has spent much of the season’s first three months scoring runs in meager portions, it finally opened the buffet Tuesday night. The Nats tied a team record with 21 hits, set a new team mark with 11 extra-base hits (seven doubles and four home runs), saw their third baseman notch his 1,000th career hit and scored more runs than they had ever before in the Davey Johnson era.
“They finally started listening to me,” Johnson quipped after his team’s 42nd victory of the season featured hits from 10 different players and multi-hit games from six. “It only took them a year.”
Gone was the angst that had sent them searching for answers after another futile offensive performance the night before in a 4-2 loss. The one that had their manager calling out their approach, their hitters fuming at the kind of pitchers that had been dominating them and their hitting coach requiring defending.
Before the game, they watched music videos and Youtube reels. Instead of the usual rush of hitters in and out to get their early work done, most lounged on the couches in the visitors’ clubhouse or chatted at their lockers. Then they went out and had their best offensive game since May 20, 2011 — more than a month before Johnson took over and a span of 189 games.
“We’ve been waiting on this all year,” LaRoche said, finishing 2-for-4 with two homers, three RBI and three runs scored. “We’ve known what this offense can do and just haven’t seen it. … It was nice to see the potential of this lineup.”
But LaRoche and Moore were hardly alone. Whether it was the Rockies’ major league-worst pitching staff, which threw 168 pitches, or Coors Field. Or both. They lived up to their billing. Both helped, at least for one night, to cure what has been ailing the Nationals.
“I think we were all getting kind of irritated with what we’ve been doing,” said shortstop Ian Desmond, who was 4-for-5 with three doubles, one perhaps the single most important at-bat of game. “But one guy does something and everybody else jumps on board.”
Ryan Zimmerman was 3-for-4 and finished a triple shy of the cycle, including a single in the fifth for his 1,000th career hit, a milestone he called “meaningful.” There have been seven others who’ve accomplished the feat while in a Nationals uniform, including LaRoche who did it earlier this year. But only Zimmerman has collected all 1,000 with Washington, needing 3,512 at-bats over 903 games.
Hit No. 1,0001 was his fourth home run of the season, and he’s now 6-for-13 with two doubles and a homer since receiving a cortisone injection in his shoulder Sunday morning.
“It just freed it up a little and let me do things like I’ve always done,” Zimmerman said. “I think our offense has been so inconsistent all year. … For us to kind of continue to grow and get better, we can use this as kind of a springboard I think.”
Michael Morse, who entered the game batting .217, was 4-for-5 and saw his average rise 33 points. Even Gio Gonzalez, who gave up five runs for the first time all season and surrendered more than three earned runs for the first time since April 7, chipped in with what was a go-ahead RBI single in the fourth — in addition to his six innings of work.
But it was Desmond’s fifth-inning double — a one-out, bases-loaded, 2-2 swing that came after seven pitches and two straight foul balls — that many of the Nationals labeled as the turning point. “Awesome,” LaRoche called it.
The Nationals were clinging to a 4-3 lead when Desmond stepped in, and he immediately flashed back to his at-bat Sunday afternoon in Baltimore in the sixth inning with runners on the corners.
“During that at-bat I thought, ‘This at-bat’s going to impact the game,’” Desmond said, still lamenting the end result of a pop up to second. “We didn’t score a run and we ended up losing 2-1.
“[Tonight] I was like, ‘Just get the job done. Just get one of these runs in.’ I wasn’t trying to get too big. … It worked out that I ended up getting a double. I would have taken anything as long as the run scored. I just knew we needed to keep the momentum going there.”
Washington would score five runs in the inning. A nail-biter turned into a laugher.
As the Nats navigate the waters of being a team with a superb pitching staff and an offense that has struggled to find its consistency, they enjoyed a banner night. A needed night.
“I know in this ballpark, good things can happen to an offense,” Johnson said. “There was no panic. I know the fans were all panicky about how we’re hitting. But there’s talent here. A game like this can kind of gets things going.”