by Tyler Radecki, Staff Writer and Dave Nichols


There was a lot of this going on for the Nationals last night. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)

Maybe a trip 45 miles north on I-95 to Baltimore was just what the Washington Nationals needed. In their first interleague game of 2011, against their American League "geographic rivals", the team’s ice cold offense broke through in a big way, with a franchise record for runs in a game, beating the the Baltimore Orioles 17-5 Friday before 24,442 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The team had six home runs, two triples, 19 hits, five walks, and an all-around spectacular night offensively.

The Nats scored runs in every inning but the first and third in the offensive showcase.  But the game was very much in doubt early on as the Orioles were scoring runs of their own, as the Nats led just 6-5 after four innings.  But that's when the Nationals exploded against Orioles reliever Jason Berken for six runs, including home runs by Roger Bernadina (2-for-6, two RBI) and the first of Jayson Werth's two round-trippers (7, 8).

Jayson Werth had a great day overall, going 3-for-4 with two home runs and four RBIs on his 32nd birthday.

After the offensive outburst, things got a little tense in the Nationals dugout.  With a seven-run cushion, manager Jim Riggleman decided he'd seen enough of Nats starter Jason Marquis and changed pitchers for the bottom of the fifth inning, sending Henry Rodriguez to the mound.

Marquis was visibly upset in the dugout and had a little outburst of his own after he was informed by Riggleman he was being relieved, thus disqualifying him from a chance to earn the victory despite Marquis' performance this season as the Nats best pitcher, and the fact that they had a seven-run lead.   

Marquis was indeed struggling, having allowed five earned runs on eight hits and three walks, but it's was a slap in the face to the team's de facto ace not allowing him to at least start the inning.  Sure, if Marquis gives up a homer or a couple base runners, go get him.  But to yank him with a seven-run lead was curious at the very least.

"I was just trying to plead with [Riggleman] to stay in the game," Marquis told reporters after the game.  "Obviously I didn't get my way and just let a little emotion out.  Nothing other than that really, other than being a competitor and wanting to stay in the game."

Just how upset was Marquis in the dugout?  "I'd say about as upset as I've ever seen a ballplayer," Riggleman said.

Jason Marquis had his shortest outing of the season. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)

Riggleman explained further, "I thought Jason was struggling through it, and I made the decision to take him out. It was a one-run game. If I'd had known we were going to go out there and score six, maybe I would have let him go back out there."

But after that inning, the difference was that the Nats continued to pour on the offense while the Nats’ bullpen shut the door. Rodriguez pitched three innings of scoreless relief followed by another two by Todd Coffey and Doug Slaten. Rodriguez picked up the win and had three strikeouts, lowering his ERA to 1.00.

It was a night in which the offense finally broke out after getting shut out in both games against New York earlier in the week. Rookies Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos paced the team, combining for eight runs scored, two triples, two home runs, six hits, 16 total bases, two walks, and seven runs batted in.

How often do you see two players from the same team have a chance to bat in the ninth inning with an opportunity to hit for the cycle?  Not often, and unfortunately Ramos grounded into a double play to end the ninth, ending both his and Espinosa's shot with the second baseman standing in the on-deck circle.

Outfielders Roger Bernadina and Laynce Nix also homered and contributed two hits to the cause.

Unfortunately, the two players that are perhaps struggling most of all on this team, Adam LaRoche and Matt Stairs, could not participate in the fun.  LaRoche went without a hit in three at bats, though he did reach twice with two walks and scored two runs.  Stairs though went hitless in four at bats, striking out twice and stranding five runners.  The 43-year old veteran, who hit fifth in Riggleman's lineup as the DH, is now hitting .077 (2-for-26) in 2011.

All in all, though, it was a true record-setting night for the Nationals as they broke their single-game franchise record for runs (17) and home runs (6). It was great to see the team rebound so well after losing Thursday night’s game in part because of a missed call at first base and being three-hit by a relative unknown pitcher.

Last year, the team began to unravel after a missed check swing call in Houston, so to see the team – especially the offense – come out and stay focused after a controversial conclusion Thursday night was a great sight. And really, anytime the team can score 17 runs is a good time.

Nats Happy Homer Time! (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)

THE GOOD: There were so many great offensive performances, but Danny Espinosa had himself a big day. A double shy of the cycle, he continued to break out of his slump, going 3-for-4 with a walk, single, triple, home run and five runs batted in.

The Nats had seven players with multi-hit games against five Orioles pitchers.  Even both pinch-hitters (Michael Morse and Alex Cora) had base hits.

THE BAD: Jason Marquis was spotted the biggest run support of any Nats pitcher this year, but couldn’t earn the win as he went just four innings and gave up five runs on eight hits and three walks.

THE UGLY: Just about everyone in the lineup got some production Friday night – everyone but Matt Stairs, who started the game as the DH. Stairs' 0-for-4 night just continues his downward spiral this season.  When does it get to the point where the team is forced to make a move? It will be interesting to see what happens when Rick Ankiel returns from the disabled list.

THE STATS: 19 hits, five walks, nine strikeouts. 5-for-11 with RISP, 15 LOB, one GIDP. No errors.

NEXT GAME: Saturday at 4:05 against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards. John Lannan (2-4, 4.53) faces Jeremy Guthrie (1-6, 3.91).

HARPER WATCH:  Bryce Harper went 2-for-3 with a double, home run (10) and three RBI's in Hagerstown's 5-4 loss to Greensboro. The 18-year old phenom is hitting .364/.447/.671 overall and is 13-for-39 (.333) in  his last ten games with three homers and 10 RBIs.

BONUS PHOTOS:  Both center fielders had troubles in the field last night.  The Orioles' Adam Jones couldn't close his glove on a Jayson Werth blast and ended up knocking it over the fence for a home run.  Roger Bernadina flat dropped a routine fly ball after getting his spike caught in the rubberized warning track in straight-away center field.  Neither play really had any outcome on the game all things considered, but these are still two pretty cool pictures.

***Quotes in this post came from published sources, including The Washington Times.