Six cans of Budweiser were waiting for Anthony Rendon at his locker in the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse Sunday evening, one for each of the six hits he hoarded in the Nationals’ historic 23-5 drubbing of the New York Mets at Nationals Park.
The third baseman had begun the day as the least productive player in Washington’s starting lineup. He ended it with the best performance of his professional baseball career and one of the best statstical days in baseball history, fronting Washington’s unprecedented eruption by going 6 for 6 with three home runs, a three-run double and 10 RBI.
Rendon became the fifth player in club history with three home runs in a game and the 13th player in major league history — and first since 2007 — with at least 10 RBI in a game. Rendon joined Walker Cooper as the only players in major league history with six hits, three home runs and 10 RBI in a game. Cooper did it as a catcher for the Cincinnati Reds in 1949.
“I was aware of some of it,” Rendon said, the beer at his feet. “And then [Stephen] Drew came up to me and, after I hit the double to right-center, I think that made it nine [RBI]. I think he told me, ‘That’s a record. I’m glad I was here to watch it.’ That’s when I knew for sure.”
Rendon had plenty of help. Matt Wieters went 3 for 4 with two home runs and four RBI. Michael A. Taylor, the injured Adam Eaton’s substitute in center field, went 2 for 6 and has five hits in the two games since Eaton’s injury. Adam Lind and Bryce Harper, who set a major league record for runs in April with 32, both clubbed solo home runs in the eighth inning off Kevin Plawecki, a catcher who entered the game to pitch in the seventh inning with the score 19-5. Plawecki yielded four runs in two innings.
The Nationals ignited the historic outbreak with five runs off Noah Syndergaard and didn’t stop when the Mets ace left the game in the second inning with an injury. They scored in every inning but the second. The 23 runs are a Nationals record. As were the seven home runs. Every starter got a hit, and their 23 hits tied the club record.
By the end of the sixth inning, the Nationals had become the first team in major league history to score at least 14 runs five times in April. They scored 170 runs in April — a greater output than any other month in club history — and have tallied 73 runs over their past six games. The Kansas City Royals have scored 63 runs in 23 games this season.
The Nationals probably won’t find another center fielder, internally or externally, to replace Eaton’s offensive production. He was sparking baseball’s most prolific offense before he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus and suffered a high ankle sprain Friday. If Sunday is any indication, they probably don’t need to.
“I think we had an increased focus throughout the lineup today, being able to not give away any at-bats,” Wieters said. “And we carried it through for nine innings in a game that early we needed the runs, and then late we kept that focus going.”
The barrage masked another iffy outing for Joe Ross. The right-hander battled fastball command troubles and surrendered five runs on seven hits, including two home runs, and a walk over four innings. His ERA jumped to 7.47, but the Nationals have tallied at least 14 runs in each of his three starts this season, and four relievers combined to toss five scoreless innings.
“We hated to take Joe out in the fourth, but we were trading runs with them,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “And those guys can hit the ball out of the ballpark, and so we’ve got to get Joe something figured out.”
This wasn’t supposed the day the Nationals broke out against the depleted Mets (10-14) after dropping the first two games of the series, not with Syndergaard on the mound. But the Nationals pounced on the ace in the first inning. Trea Turner started and ended the inning with outs. Daniel Murphy recorded the other one, striking out on three pitches. The rest of the lineup combined for five singles and two walks against Syndergaard, who touched 100 mph but wasn’t fooling anyone.
Syndergaard’s four-pitch walk of Harper was the first he issued this season. The other walk was intentional to Wieters to get to Ross, who promptly singled to plate the last of the five runs. The five earned runs matched the five earned runs Syndergaard yielded in 26 innings across his first four starts. The towering right-hander’s ERA subsequently soared from 1.73 to 3.33 in the first, and he didn’t have much time to lower it because he soon exited the game.
After getting Jayson Werth to line out, Syndergaard threw a change-up to Harper and immediately grabbed his right side in obvious pain. He quickly exited. The Mets later announced Syndergaard had “a possible lat strain” and was returning to New York for an MRI exam.
Sean Gilmartin replaced Syndergaard. He surrendered Rendon’s first home run in the third inning, but the Mets scored in each of the first four innings, including two in the fourth, to dwindle Washington’s lead to 6-5. Then the Nationals’ offense erupted again.
First, Ryan Zimmerman scored Werth with a sacrifice fly for his 29th RBI, which set a Nationals record for a calendar month. Murphy followed with a single before Rendon swatted a three-run home run off Gilmartin. He had to wait another inning to come to the plate with the bases loaded, clearing them with a double to give him nine RBI over four plate appearances in five innings. He entered the game with five in 95 plate appearances.
The Nationals added a run in the sixth on a Wieters solo home run and five more in the seventh, highlighted by Wieters’s three-run homer. Rendon capped off the annihilation with a solo home run off a helpless Plawecki in Washington’s four-run eighth inning and a curtain call.
“It was nice to see Anthony get going today,” Baker said. “We just have to build on it. We’ve got a long way to go and hopefully a lot more runs to score.”