When Mark Reynolds first joined the Washington Nationals and began his tenure with a multi-homer game and a hot streak, the veteran joked that the strikeouts would come. Notoriously boom-or-bust, Reynolds was resigned to a slump but not afraid of it. By now, after 12 years in the big leagues, he knows cold streaks are as sure to end as the hot ones.
So even as he and the Nationals’ offense slogged through a metaphorically frigid June, he figured things would turn. He tried not to get too low. He hit a walk-off home run Friday night. He began Saturday with a homer, then continued with a single, double, another homer and another single, going 5 for 5 and tying the team record for RBI in a game with 10. He is the 15th player since 1908 to accumulate that many. Sometimes slumps end.
The Nationals beat the Marlins, 18-4, earning their third straight victory since a players-only meeting in which they urged each other to remember what they are capable of and play like it. Suddenly, they are doing just that. They, as with Reynolds, watched a brutal stretch end as they always knew it would — or said they knew it would, or figured it had to, or some combination of the three. Whatever they knew or didn’t know, whatever confidence they feigned, they have scored 35 times in their past three games. They scored 100 runs in June.
“That’s like a good two weeks,” Reynolds said of his own performance, though he might as well have been talking about his team’s. “These things don’t happen often.”
Not 24 hours after his home run to left-center ended the Nationals’ walk-off winner Friday night, Reynolds took the same swing at the first pitch Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen (2-6) threw him Saturday. He hit it to the exact same place, thereby giving himself more home runs in his past two swings than he hit in all of June.
Six innings into Saturday night’s game, he had driven in more runs in one night than he had in all of June. By that time, the Nationals had scored 13 runs for the second time in three nights. They scored so many one time in June. The last month has not been kind to this team, which has finally started to remember that this game is not always so cruel.
“That was nice,” said Manager Dave Martinez, who took a deep breath and just laughed when he sat down for his postgame news conference, and in so doing said more than he could in any answer.
Reynolds’s first home run gave Max Scherzer a lead. The Nationals had not given him one of those in any of his past five starts. Saturday was Scherzer’s 19th start of the season but the sixth that came following a Nationals win. The pressure of injuries and a struggling offense has funneled onto his shoulders every five days, forcing him to tread water and help keep the team afloat.
Saturday, hours after closer Sean Doolittle underwent a precautionary MRI exam on his foot, with Brandon Kintzler unavailable after three straight days of work and Ryan Madson and Kelvin Herrera best avoided after pitching two out of three days and warming up repeatedly, the Nationals needed innings out of Scherzer (11-5) more than ever.
He was nearing 100 pitches after the sixth but told Martinez he wanted to pitch the seventh to take an inning off the bullpen’s shoulders. He hung a couple of sliders, walked a few batters he wouldn’t normally and allowed three home runs while striking out exactly that many. But he got his first win in six starts anyway.
“If there’s ever a time to make some mistakes,” Scherzer said, “it’s when you get 18 runs and the offense is blasting everybody.”
Every hitter in the lineup reached base at least once. Five hitters reached base twice. Reynolds became the third player in Nationals history to drive in at least eight runs in a game — and the second in three days after Trea Turner did the same in the Nationals’ epic comeback victory Thursday night.
Bryce Harper, who spent the early afternoon hitting off a tee, compiled a three-single day and reached base four times. Sometimes practice yields results. Pedro Severino, who entered Saturday with the lowest on-base-plus-slugging percentage of any catcher with at least 150 plate appearances this year, homered for the second time in five games. Sometimes results improve. Since the team meeting Scherzer led Wednesday, the Nationals have come alive. Asked whether he sees the difference he hoped he would see, Scherzer asked simply, “Have you?”
The Marlins are not a playoff team, not the best team against which to measure a team’s viability. But the Nationals spent the last month losing to losing teams. These three days do not mean they are fixed, that trouble will never strike again. But these three days reminded this team of what veterans such as Reynolds always say they knew all along: Sometimes things get better.