Sat, October 23, 2021

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Nationals flip the power on, blast four homers in 11-4 rout of the Yankees


NEW YORK - Before Friday night, with a month of baseball in the books, the Washington Nationals were perhaps the last team to choose in a home run-hitting contest. That logic cut both ways. Their pitchers had allowed homers at a higher rate than any staff in the league.

Their batters left the park more often than just five other clubs.

But then the Nationals outslugged the New York Yankees - a group known for slugging - in a series-opening 11-4 win in the Bronx. Josh Bell, Yan Gomes, Josh Harrison and Juan Soto went deep, in that order, accounting for eight runs. Harrison's homer charged a six-run eighth that was helped along by three errors by the Yankees. He hopped out of the box, aware he had scorched Jonathan Loáisiga's fastball, before trotting home behind Victor Robles (who'd reached on a wide throw by DJ LeMahieu) and Trea Turner (who'd poked a go-ahead RBI single).

Washington's power stood up to two solo shots from LeMahieu and another by Gary Sánchez, all off starter Patrick Corbin. It was an odd way for the Nationals (13-15) to snap a three-game losing streak, especially since they hit only two homers in 27 innings while being swept by the Atlanta Braves this week.

Soto made his first start since returning from the injured list Tuesday, plugged in as the Nationals' designated hitter. He's not yet cleared to play right field because he hasn't consistently thrown at full strength. But Manager Dave Martinez was relieved to get Soto, the club's best hitter, more than a single pinch-hit appearance. Soto finished with a groundout, two strikeouts looking, a single in the eighth and a two-run homer to left-center off Luis Cessa in the ninth.

But in a twist, after weeks of searching for a burst of power, the early pop was provided by Soto's teammates. Bell erased LeMahieu's first homer with a solo shot off Yankees starter Jameson Taillon in the second. Taillon tested Bell with a high four-seam fastball. Bell lifted it 432 feet to center. Gomes then pushed Washington ahead with a two-run blast to left, his fourth of the season and third of the past week - showing that his bat picks up when playing most days. And his next task was helping Corbin hold down the Yankees (16-16).

For the most part, the pair was able to. A handful of hard-hit balls found the Nationals' defense. Corbin retired eight straight between the third and sixth before . LeMahieu, though, tagged Corbin with his second homer to start the sixth, also going to the short porch in right. Through six innings, the teams combined for six total hits and five homers. The only other knock was LeMahieu's one-out single off Corbin in the third.

The surprise, then, was that the Nationals were hanging in this type of game. Their hitters had produced a homer in less than 3 percent of at-bats, a rate that put them in the bottom third of the league. Their pitchers, by contrast, entered with MLB's worst home run rate for starters and relievers (4.3 percent of all batters faced had put the ball in the seats). On Friday afternoon, with Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge looming in the Yankees' order, Martinez recognized his staff's inability to keep hits in the yard. Then Corbin and Tanner Rainey left Stanton and Judge hitless in eight at-bats.

"With the way these guys swing the bats, you've got to hit your spots, and you've got to get ahead," Martinez said of the Yankees. "You've got to really focus on getting ahead of these hitters. Because all the way down that lineup, these guys can hit the ball a long way."

The count was even, 1-1, on LeMahieu's homer in the first. With the next two, Corbin was actually ahead. Of the three critical pitches, only the third - the one resulting in LeMahieu's second homer of the night - was well inside the strike zone. Otherwise, Corbin was beat even when he was hitting his spots.

But the box score doesn't recognize those details. It just read 3-3 as the seventh passed without a run. Then it read 7-3, the Nationals leading, once Harrison's homer flew over the left field fence. That ticked to 8-3 after Kyle Schwarber singled in Soto. It ticked to 9-3 because Gomes's grounder rolled below shortstop Gleyber Torres's glove. By the time Soto's blast left the park in the ninth it was a tried-and-true blowout.

Published : May 08, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Jesse Dougherty