The first came from Zimmerman. In the first inning, he crushed a first-pitch, 88-mph fastball for his 23rd home run this year, which tied him for the team lead with Jayson Werth. Two weeks ago, Zimmerman left fans wondering what had happened to his power. In his first at-bat Thursday afternoon, he vaulted into the National League’s top 10 in home runs.
“We want to continue to play like we’ve been playing, just to see what happens,” Zimmerman said. “If we get in, great, because we’ll be hot.”
The Nationals broke open the game with four runs in the final three innings. In the eighth, Span led off. He was 0 for 2 with a walk on the day to that point and perhaps had one more chance to keep his streak alive. In his third plate appearance, Span had lined out to third base. This time, he cracked reliever Frank Francisco’s 2-1 fastball to right-center for a double. The streak grew to 23.
“I got back in the dugout, and everybody was like, ‘You’ve got to do it earlier than this, man. You’re giving us a heart attack,’ ” Span said. “So it’s fun just to hear everybody’s with me.”
As the inning continued, Francisco drilled Werth with a fastball square in the middle of the back. Werth glowered at Francisco before he walked to first, at one point stopping to chuck his elbow pad back toward the Nationals’ dugout.
“That guy is a little goofy out there anyway,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “He was looking over at our bench and chatting at our bench. It’s a good thing we don’t see them again.”
Harper followed with a grounder to second base. Werth slid hard into shortstop Ruben Tejada, breaking up a double play. When Ian Desmond followed with another grounder, Harper barreled into second baseman Daniel Murphy, which broke up another twin killing and allowed Zimmerman to score.
“The second baseman knew they were coming,” Johnson said. “That’s just good baseball.”
The glare and the slides offered another reminder. The Nationals, after a season spent idling or worse, are no longer a team to be messed with.