DENVER — When Trea Turner slid into third base, having just completed the third cycle in Washington Nationals history, he dusted himself off and looked around, hoping someone would verify the feat.
“Wait a second,” he said, though he was not sure third base coach Bobby Henley had heard him when he did not receive an answer. Not until Turner saw the visitors’ dugout clamoring for the baseball did he know for sure.
“That was kind of my confirmation that I actually did it,” Turner said. “I saw people ask for the ball and I saw people clapping at me.”
Turner drove in seven runs Tuesday night, which combined with Daniel Murphy’s five RBI to lift the Nationals to a 15-12 win. They are now tied for the most wins in the majors at 14, and will finish a road trip they had dreaded with at least seven wins. At its outset, they would have probably settled for five.
Tuesday night’s win was, as Dusty Baker put it afterward, “Coors Field at its finest,” a topsy-turvy contest in which the Nationals scored the game’s first seven runs and surrendered the game’s final seven runs . Joe Ross failed to last five innings, but never trailed. The Nationals’ offense — with a new-look lineup that included Turner hitting second and Ryan Zimmerman batting cleanup between Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy — scored a season-high 15 runs. Turner scored four of them.
Turner was not constructed for nights like Tuesday, when he wore a fleece mask and his long sleeves billowed as he chugged around the bases four times. Forty-degree evenings with gusting winds are not a common occurrence in Florida, where Turner played his high school ball, nor at North Carolina State, where he emerged as an elite prospect.
But on a frigid evening with gusting winds and the threat of snow, Turner showcased the speed and offensive versatility that helped him become a rookie of the year candidate last year, and a staple of the Nationals’ future for years to come.
Sixty six minutes passed as a chilly rain fell before he got his shot. After the rain delay, temperatures sat in the mid-40s and only fell from there, producing the kind of night that normally belongs to pitchers and not to hitters, who risk paralyzing their hands with bad contact and see well-hit balls fall short of their destination. Turner, who admitted he’s “a baby when it comes to the cold,” seemed unaffected.
He drove a home run out to right field. He singled, doubled and tripled the other way. A day after the Rockies’ pitching staff stymied him with breaking balls, Turner fouled them off to get better pitches. After a single in the first, a double in the second, and a home run in the sixth, Turner had already tied his career high in RBI with four.
“When you take someone that’s immensely talented like he is, and they’re engaged on every single pitch, special things happen,” said Murphy, whose three-hit, five-RBI night was lost in Turner’s shivering shadow. “That’s what we saw tonight.”
Turner deferred to his mother’s memory when asked if he had ever hit for the cycle before. He didn’t think so, he said, at least not since college when he really started keeping track. A few times last season, he was a hit or so away. When he came to bat with the bases loaded in the seventh, needing a triple for the cycle, Turner said his goal was simple: avoid a double play, and get the ball to the outfield.
“I actually was not thinking about [the cycle],” Turner said. “It’s funny. When you don’t think about it, it happens.”
Turner began the evening hitting .219. He finished it hitting .289.
“Seven runs?” said Baker, who had lost track. “Well that stands out. There’s not many guys who can say they drove in seven runs in a game. I just hope he remembers how he did it and duplicates it over and over and over.”
Turner’s seven RBI are tied for second-most in a single game in team history. He joined Cristian Guzman and Brad Wilkerson as the only other Nationals to hit for the cycle, though his bench coach Chris Speier once did it as an Expos shortstop.
His efforts, combined with Murphy’s, helped the Nationals navigate what was hardly a perfect night. Ross struggled and saw his velocity fall a few miles per hour, but he wasn’t concerned, and neither was his manager after the game. Both chalked the whole thing up to the cold and rainy conditions.
The bullpen struggled again, particularly Joe Blanton, who allowed four straight hits and four runs for one bad night for his ERA. The Nationals’ bullpen allowed seven runs Tuesday, and it didn’t matter. The offense continues to demolish danger. After scoring 93 runs in April last season, the Nationals have already scored 112 this month.
Tuesday, seven of those runs came courtesy of a Florida kid who said later he was just trying to survive the cold, but ended up thriving in it.