Adam LaRoche hits a milestone

September 22, 2012

Alex Brandon/AP

While Gio Gonzalez celebrated his 20th win, another milestone capped the other half of the Nationals’ thumping of the Milwaukee Brewers. Adam LaRoche finalized the 10-4 victory with a solo home run over the right field scoreboard, his 32nd of the season, matching the career high he set in 2006.

“It’s been a few years ago since I got to 32,” LaRoche said. “Nice to be able to bounce back even at 32 years old and still be able to do that. So yeah, it’s nice.”

LaRoche has been one of the Nationals most valuable players this year, a steady, powerful bat in the middle of their lineup. He leads major league first basemen in homers and ranks fourth overall in the National League. His presence is one of the factors in the Nationals’ sudden rise, especially after a season in which he underwent shoulder surgery and missed 120 games.

“It took a little while form the start of the season to realize, okay, I’m back to pretty close to 100 percent,” LaRoche said. “Which is night and day from where I was last year.”

Before LaRoche stuck, the Nationals had cracked the game open with nine runs in the first four innings. Their primary victim was an old friend Livan Hernandez, the man who threw the first pitch in Nationals history, is now a mop-up reliever for the Brewers. He lumbered in with two outs in the third inning, and in the fourth the Nationals tattooed him.

Hernandez allowed six runs while recording two outs. In a span of six batters, both Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond smashed three-run homers off him. As Hernandez walked off the mound, the crowd cheered him not out mockery, but out of genuine fondness.

“We’re friends and we’ll always be friends, but he’s not my friend when he’s pitching and I think he would probably say the same thing about me,” Zimmerman said. “It is what it is, but it was a big at-bat to give us a little extra cushion. I had a chance to do that earlier with a guy on third and less than two outs, so it was nice to come through there.”

Desmond always cherished Hernandez as a teammate. He wasn’t about to take back the shot he drilled to center field, but he would not have minded if it came against a different pitcher.

“Livo, obviously, when he was here was a great teammate,” Desmond said. “He took me under his wing and we had a lot of talks about pitching and his philosophies and kind of where his head was at. When I was up there, I was just trying to think along with him. I don’t really have that killer instinct, where I like to beat up on my friends. So I don’t necessarily feel bad, but it’s unfortunate he had to take the hit there.”

The Nationals’ pummeling of the Brewers began in the third, off flame-throwing starter Wily Peralta. Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper started the inning with consecutive doubles. As Zimmerman battered, Harper strayed too far off second base with his secondary lead. Martin Maldonado tried to pick him off.

The baseball circuitry within told Harper to dash to third base, and so without hesitation he did. Harper’s boldness turned a mistake into a free base. He would score when LaRoche smacked a double to right.

“Typical Harper move,” Davey Johnson said. “He probably used that in high school.”

Adam Kilgore covers the Nationals for The Washington Post.
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Adam Kilgore · September 22, 2012