Washington Nationals Manager Dave Martinez sat down into the cushy black seat and released a sigh. His long day was just about over. After all the chaos surrounding his team over the previous 48 hours, after rampant speculation swirling before Tuesday’s nonwaiver trade deadline, after reports suggesting his clubhouse was dysfunctional, after Trea Turner’s offensive tweets from several years ago resurfaced, the Nationals won a baseball game unlike any in their history.
Nearly fully intact after the trade deadline, Washington pulverized the New York Mets, 25-4, at Nationals Park. For a few hours, they resembled the juggernaut many in the clubhouse and front office believe will surface and secure a playoff spot over the next two months. They appeared far from dysfunctional as they set a franchise record for runs scored and largest margin of victory.
“It’s been an emotional day,” Martinez said, “and it was a good way to end it.”
While buzz churned over the Washington’s plans at the trade deadline, they did not make a splash. The Nationals (53-53) didn’t trade Bryce Harper or acquire J.T. Realmuto. Their only move was to send reliever Brandon Kintzler to the Chicago Cubs for a low-level prospect. Otherwise, the Nationals took the field with the same team that was one game under .500 through 105 games.
They hardly resembled a sub-.500 team Tuesday night, however. Every Nationals starter had a hit by the end of the second inning. They tallied seven runs in the first, chasing Mets left-hander Steven Matz before he could secure the third out. Ryan Zimmerman’s single in the frame — one of Washington’s eight hits — was the 1,695th hit of his career, passing Tim Wallach for most in franchise history. Zimmerman emerged for a curtain call after coming around to score on Daniel Murphy’s single and was given a standing ovation. A few batters later, Tanner Roark, Washington’s starting pitcher, smacked a two-out, three-run double to clear the bases. He finished 2 for 5.
Washington did not let up, scoring three runs in each of the next four frames to take a 19-0 lead, eclipsing its season high in runs after five innings. Murphy, celebrated Mets tormentor, clubbed a two-run home run in the second inning and a three-run home run in the fourth to double his season home run output. The home runs gave him 11 against the Mets, his former team, since he joined the Nationals in 2016. That’s 21 percent of his home run total as a National. He and Harper were pulled before the start of the sixth inning.
The Mets (44-60) didn’t have an answer against Roark, who recorded his second consecutive sparkling outing. After tossing eight scoreless innings against the Milwaukee Brewers last week, the right-hander allowed one run across seven frames. He struck out seven and didn’t walk a batter. The Mets finally scored in the seventh inning on Jeff McNeil’s solo home run off the second deck’s facing. It was McNeil’s first career home run. Roark made sure to throw him the ball before he reached New York’s dugout.
“Just it’s a big confidence booster,” Roark said. “We get the runs early on the board and . . . it always takes the weight off your shoulders. You could pitch with confidence even more and just go out and trust your stuff even more.”
By the eighth inning, infielder José Reyes was making his pitching debut for the Mets. He allowed six runs on two homers and an RBI triple. He hit Zimmerman with a 54-mph pitch, and a smiling Zimmerman joked as if to charge the mound. The game had gotten ridiculous.
One game doesn’t mean much. The Nationals have enjoyed other resounding victories. Earlier in the month, they came back from a 9-0 deficit to beat the Miami Marlins the day after a players-only meeting. They won the next three games — and then lost seven of their next 11. It wasn’t a turning point. Momentum is fickle in baseball, if it exists at all, but the Nationals steadfastly believe they can sustain enough victories to push their way into the playoffs.
Adam Eaton, impromptu Nationals clubhouse spokesman, summoned a herd of reporters to his locker Tuesday afternoon. The veteran was given the night off but he felt compelled to address the situations surrounding the team. He was most ardent about suggestions of clubhouse strife.
“Anybody reaching for this clubhouse is a mess or Davey’s not doing a good job, whatever it may be, is a load of crap,” Eaton said. “You can go to anybody on this back wall, these veteran guys and the guys that have been here, done that, we’re going to stand behind that and we’re going to all say the same thing because it’s true.”
Martinez admitted frustration has been evident in the clubhouse. The team expects to win more games. But dysfunction? A mess? Martinez vehemently denied that’s the case, though Shawn Kelley slamming his glove in frustration as he gave up three runs in the ninth inning provided terrible optics. After the game, Kelley maintained he was frustrated with his performance and discussions with a couple of umpires.
As long as the Nationals start winning games at a high rate, any dysfunction will be masked. They’ll attempt to pull it off with essentially the same team they had before Tuesday’s trade deadline. They’re banking on a different result. Wins cure all. Tuesday was a start.
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