ST. LOUIS – Washington Nationals Manager Dusty Baker gathered his position players in the dining room of the visitor’s clubhouse at Busch Stadium before Friday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals. It is not uncommon for Nationals pitchers and hitters to meet before the beginning of a series, however Baker already knew a lot about the opponent.
For instance, Baker was Cardinals starter Mike Leake’s first manager in the majors with the Cincinnati Reds, further he watched Leake go from first-round pick straight to the big leagues and grow into a consistent starter.
The offense at last snapped out of its 22-inning scoreless drought, regardless whether it helped or not in the Nationals’ 5-4 win. Michael A. Taylor’s leadoff home run was a sign of things to come. The Nationals scored four runs in the fourth inning, capped by Danny Espinosa’s two-run home run. Noting that for the first time in several games, a strong performance by a starter – Stephen Strasburg, in this case – was supported by offense.
Taylor said “It’s definitely nice to set the tone” adding “It’s not something you can do every time. My focus is just to have a quality at-bat and give the other guys a chance to see the pitcher and hopefully get one.”
Two runs were allowed by Strasburg in the first inning against the Cardinals, who entered Friday’s game averaging more than six runs a game, tops in the majors, where later he shut down the potent offense with a fatal mix of fastballs and change-ups. By the third time through the Cardinals’ order, Strasburg was sitting them down with ease. He finished with nine strikeouts and two runs allowed over seven innings.
At the plate, the Nationals broke out of their funk. They entered Friday’s game hitting .111 with eight hits and eight walks over their scoreless streak, shut down by the rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies. Friday’s lineup featured only two hitters – Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy – with batting averages higher than .235.
On Thursday, Baker sat Taylor, along with Rendon, calling it planned days of rest, and because neither was hitting to their potential it was convenient time off. Taylor has struck out in one-third of his plate appearances this season. But on the third pitch he saw from Leake, Taylor flashed his his power, sending Leake’s offering over the right field wall for a solo home run.
Three innings later, the Nationals took back the brief lead Strasburg yielded. The rally was aided by Baker’s replay challenge of Rendon’s stolen base attempt. Though replays showed that his hand got in just before the tag; Rendon, who singled to lead off the fourth inning, was called out on the close play. But replays showed that his hand got in just before the tag.
After the call was reversed, Rendon scored on Murphy’s RBI single. Jayson Werth’s sacrifice fly added another run. And then Espinosa’s left-handed two-run home run off Leake to right field gave the Nationals a 5-2 cushion.
Jonathan Papelbon nearly added more drama with a leadoff walk in the ninth inning, but he notched a double play and groundout to secure the win. The Nationals snapped a three-game losing streak and started their hellish 10-game three-city road trip off with improvement at the plate.