April 2: Max Scherzer strikes out Bryce Harper
Harper’s first of roughly 250 games against the Nationals in a Phillies uniform over the next 13 years couldn’t have gone much worse for the Nats, who watched Trea Turner suffer a broken index finger on a bunt attempt in the first inning and Philadelphia cruise to an 8-2 win on a dreary night.
Harper finished with three hits and a homer to help the Phillies improve to 4-0, but the night wasn’t a total loss for the home crowd. Harper’s pregame tribute video on the center field scoreboard was accompanied by sustained, cathartic boos. The jeers for the Liberty Bell lover were even louder when Harper came to the plate for the first time and struck out against Max Scherzer.
“The crowd was really into it, more so than I thought it would be,” said Scherzer, who struck out Harper again in his second at-bat to set off another mini-celebration.
April 9: Victor Robles sparks comeback win
One week after Harper’s return to D.C., the Nationals were down to their final strike at Citizens Bank Park after having trimmed a 6-1 deficit to 6-5. With Phillies fans on their feet and one holding a “WE GOT BRYCE, THANKS DC!!” sign, Victor Robles cranked a solo home run off Edubray Ramos to tie the score.
The Nationals added four runs in the 10th inning, with three of them coming on a moonshot home run by Juan Soto that hooked just inside the right field foul pole. The 20-year-old became the youngest player to hit a three-run homer in extra innings since Willie Mays in 1951.
“I think that’s the hardest ball I’ve ever seen hit,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said of Soto’s blast.
May 11: Welcome to the Nats, Gerardo Parra
Gerardo Parra had been with the Nationals for all of three days when he delivered the biggest hit of the team’s season to date. With two outs in the eighth inning, the bases loaded and Washington trailing the Dodgers 2-1, the San Francisco Giants castoff launched Dylan Floro’s pitch into the right-center field bleachers for a grand slam.
“Ah, we needed this,” said Scherzer, who allowed two runs in seven innings. “That was a heck of an inning for us.”
The Nationals improved to 16-23 with the win. It was a sign of things to come from Parra.
June 9: Nats go back-to-back-to-back-to-back
The Nationals set a franchise record for home runs this season, including four in a span of seven pitches against a former Washington reliever. With the Nats and San Diego Padres tied at 1 in the eighth inning at Petco Park, Howie Kendrick, Turner, Adam Eaton and Anthony Rendon homered in consecutive at-bats off Craig Stammen.
The barrage, which took all of four minutes, marked the ninth time in major league history that a team had hit back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs. The Nationals, who previously accomplished the feat July 27, 2017, against the Milwaukee Brewers, became the first team to do it twice.
“I liked the first one, for sure; that put us ahead,” Martinez said. “And then it was wow … wow … and wow.”
June 19: Scherzer pitches with a black eye
One day after he suffered a broken nose and a gnarly black eye on a bunt attempt gone wrong during batting practice, Scherzer struck out 10 Phillies over seven scoreless innings in a 2-0 Nationals win.
“This is just going to be part of what you got to do. You take the ball every fifth time,” Scherzer said after the game, adding that he never considered skipping his turn in the rotation.
July 2: Patrick Corbin honors his late friend
Corbin took the mound with a heavy heart one day after Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, his friend and former teammate, died of an accidental drug overdose. Instead of his usual No. 46, Corbin wore Skaggs’s No. 45 and drew those digits in the dirt on the back side of the mound at Nationals Park. Then he overcame a shaky first inning to limit the Miami Marlins to one run over seven innings in a 3-2 win.
“He’s just all I’m thinking about,” Corbin said after the game. “ … When you have a loss, you want to keep things as normal as you can and just try to go out there and do what you have to do.”
July 18: Stephen Strasburg dances
Strasburg had a dominant season, with a 3.32 ERA and a career-high 251 strikeouts while eclipsing 200 innings for the first time since 2014. But his most memorable game of the year had more to do with what he did with his bat.
In the first game of a pivotal midseason series at Atlanta, Strasburg allowed three runs and eight hits over five-plus innings. That was plenty good enough to earn his 12th win, thanks to his 3-for-3 night at the plate, which included a three-run homer and a career-high five RBI.
“To be honest, it was pretty nerve-racking,” he said. “I didn’t really have anything. I’m not a big dancer to begin with.”
July 23: ‘Baby Shark’ catches on
Not so much a moment as a movement, the Nationals’ “Baby Shark” phenomenon originated June 19, when Parra, who was hitless in 22 straight at-bats, decided to change his walk-up song to the catchy children’s tune.
“My girl loves that song,” Parra said of his 2-year-old daughter, Aaliyah. “ … She sings it a lot.”
Parra went 2 for 4 with a home run and two RBI that day, and he hasn’t changed his walk-up song since.
When Parra came to bat as a pinch hitter in the seventh inning with the bases loaded and looking to extend Washington’s 5-0 lead against the Colorado Rockies on July 24, the Nationals debuted an animated graphic of Parra clapping along to the song on the center field scoreboard. Thousands of fans in the crowd of 22,612 stood and chomped as one before Parra cleared the bases with a single. Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman didn’t know what to make of the singalong when Atlanta came to town a week later.
July 29: Rendon’s grand slam sinks the Braves
During his MVP-caliber season, Rendon delivered a number of clutch hits, but perhaps none was bigger than his sixth-inning grand slam to break a 2-2 tie against the Braves at Nationals Park.
“I had to go back to my high school days. I did the ‘Dougie’ for a little bit; some of these people don’t know about it,” Rendon said of his ensuing dugout dance.
Washington went on to win, 6-3, to pull within 4½ games of Atlanta for the division lead. The Braves took the final two games of the series, and the Nationals would get no closer until the last day of the season, but for one night in late July, Rendon’s heroics made it seem as if another NL East title was within reach.
Sept. 3: Kurt Suzuki caps incredible comeback against the Mets
The Nationals trailed the Mets 10-4 entering the bottom of the ninth inning. Seven runs later, with Scherzer watching Kurt Suzuki’s walk-off home run on a TV in the bowels of Nationals Park, they had pulled off the biggest comeback in franchise history.
“If you walked out of this ballpark when the Mets scored five runs in the top of the ninth inning, YOU BLEW IT!” play-by-play man Charlie Slowes shouted on 106.7 the Fan. “A curly W’s in the books!”
“I don’t know, man,” Ryan Zimmerman told Dan Kolko on the MASN postgame show. “I blacked out and then we won."
The fan who caught Suzuki’s home run ball joked that she blacked out, too.
The Mets had never lost a game they led by at least six runs in the ninth inning or later, and the Nationals became the first team since 1961 to allow five runs in the top of the ninth inning only to score more than five runs in the bottom of the ninth of a walk-off win.
Sept. 7: Aaron Barrett makes an emotional return
More than four years after his last appearance and more than three years after he broke the humerus in his right arm while throwing a fastball, Aaron Barrett pitched a scoreless inning of relief during a 5-4 loss at Atlanta. With several family members in the SunTrust Park stands, the 31-year-old walked one and struck out one without allowing a hit, and when he returned to the dugout, the tears flowed.
“After the outing was over, I’m just walking off, and all the emotions just hit me,” Barrett said. “Just, you did it, man. You did it.”
Sept. 24: Nats clinch after eliminating Phillies
With a 4-1 win in the first game of a split doubleheader, the Nationals officially eliminated Harper and the Phillies from playoff contention. A 6-5 win in the nightcap on the strength of Turner’s grand slam, coupled with the Pirates’ win over the Cubs, clinched a spot in the National League wild-card game.
The Nationals watched the final out of the Pirates-Cubs game, which was broadcast on the center field videoboard, before retreating to the clubhouse to celebrate with cheap beer and champagne.
“They want to keep playing. They don’t quit,” Martinez said during the booze-soaked dance party. “They keep telling me how much they want to play for me, and I told them it’s not about me. It’s about us. Let’s play for us.”
Honorable mentions: Turner walks off the Mets; Carter Kieboom homers in his first game; Robles makes a game-saving catch; Strasburg pitches an immaculate inning; Scherzer prematurely celebrates a walk-off that wasn’t; Zimmerman collects career RBI No. 1,000; Turner becomes 26th player to hit for the cycle twice; Nats sweep the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
A previous version of this story said Bryce Harper will play roughly 250 games at Nationals Park in a Phillies uniform over the next 13 years.
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