Injured all of his first season in Washington, LaRoche this year has been the lone offensive constant for a first-place team flooded with injuries. Wednesday night, LaRoche drilled his team-best seventh homer in the sixth inning and then, in the seventh, smoked a first-pitch, bases-loaded, line-drive double to right that scored three more runs. The second drive turned a one-run game into a comfortable victory — even after a three-batter save by Henry Rodriguez — and let Gio Gonzalez earn his fifth win of the season.
“It was really special, to say the least,” LaRoche said. “Obviously, going through what I did last year and not being able to be a big part of it, and now to come back and have [the fans] behind me the way they are, it was perfect.”
LaRoche went 3 for 4, his latest stuffed box score in a season full of them, enough even to overshadow Bryce Harper’s first career triple in the first inning. Last year, LaRoche hit .172 for 43 ineffective games with a tear in his labrum before he finally succumbed to season-ending surgery.
This season he has not only returned but, at 32, is having a career year. While playing above-average defense, LaRoche is hitting .339 with a .595 slugging percentage and 29 RBI. His 1.024 on-base plus slugging percentage ranks eighth in the majors. He is on pace to make his first all-star team. The game will be played in Kansas City, “right up the road from our ranch in Kansas,” he said.
Not that it ultimately matters, but this fact may bring another small grin to LaRoche’s face: Fielder, whom the Nationals flirted with before he signed with the Detroit Tigers, has underperformed him in every significant offensive category.
“He’s making that move look real good — that lack of move,” Manager Davey Johnson said of LaRoche. “He’s only human. ‘I want to show everybody, what were you thinking about, with the Prince?’ ”
Except LaRoche, the son of a big leaguer, betrays no such sentiment. His teammates revere him for his even-keeled personality.
“I don’t think he was upset about it, trying to prove anything to anyone,” said shortstop Ian Desmond, who hit a solo homer. “He probably was well-rested and had a good hunting season.”
LaRoche paid little attention to the Fielder rumors. He did not feel like he needed to validate his two-year, $16 million contract. But he did have something to prove.