When Washington Nationals starting pitcher John Lannan gave up back-to-back doubles with one out in the top of the first inning, falling behind 1-0 to the Los Angeles Dodgers, it appeared like it could end up being "one of those days" at Nats Park.
Lannan managed to wriggle out of the frame after 27 pitches without surrendering another run, and then the offense stole the show.
Ian Desmond, Michael Morse and Jayson Werth all crushed first inning home runs, and Morse added a second one later, to defeat the Dodgers -- one of baseball's hottest teams of the moment -- 7-2, before a charged up Labor Day crowd 25,000-plus strong.
The win gives the Nats an overall record of 65-74 and a home record of 39-30.
Desmond lead off with a titanic blast that cleared the visitor's bullpen in the left center field power alley. Two batters later, Michael Morse mashed his 25th of the season, with Rick Ankiel aboard. The next batter, Jayson Werth, pulled a slider into the seats in left field. Just like that, the Nats took a 4-1 lead over Hiroki Kuroda (L, 11-15, 3.18) and the Dodgers, winners of 11 of their last 13 games.
The three home runs in an inning tied a Nationals team record, and was the first time Kuroda had surrendered three home runs in a single game, let alone a single inning, in his 110 Major League start.
Both pitchers settled down after the fireworks of the first inning and put up zeroes until the sixth inning, when Morse touched Kuroda up again for his 26th homer of the season after an eight-pitch at bat. Werth almost went back-to-back again, but his long fly ball died on the warning track in right field.
The Nationals added single runs in the seventh and eighth innings on RBI hits by Ankiel and Wilson Ramos.
Lannan (W, 9-11, 3.48) pitched into the sixth, but manager Davey Johnson noticed Lannan growing weary and letting his fastball drift up in the zone, so he gave Lannan the hook after a one out single by Juan Rivera. Lannan seemed to be cruising up until that point, but Johnson wouldn't let Lannan talk him out of his decision.
"[Lannan] said to me, 'Give me one more hitter, I'll get a ground ball double play.' And all I said was 'Nice try," the Nats manager said jokingly after the game. "I like the fact he wants to stay in there. That's a good thing."
Lannan gave up five hits and two walks, striking out four, in 5 1/3 innings to earn the win though. Collin Balester, Tom Gorzelanny, Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett all followed in a parade of relief pitchers.
Another good thing is the continued production of Morse. He's clearly been the team's offensive MVP this season, and just continues to make solid contact just about every time up. Asked about Morse's consistency, Johnson noted that Morse is adjusting to how pitchers are approaching him, a sign of maturation as a hitter.
A reporter asked how long it takes to tell when a hitter's "for real", and Johnson answered, "It's real right now. He knows what he's trying to do. He knows his approach. He knows now they're trying to pitch him. He's got tremendous power the other way and obviously they're going to try to pound him in. And he knows how to get at it."
"He's learning more about the strike zone inside. You'll see him taking more pitches -- not even offering at them inside. That's when you know a hitter's got a good command of the strike zone."
"To me it's real. He knows he can hit the ball the other way and he's making adjustments in[side]. So to me, it's real."
Morse, obviously, is enjoying his career year. His 26 home runs this season not only are the most he's hit in any one year of his career, but are more than his 22 career Minor League home runs (in 10 seasons) or his previous 21 career Major League home runs. It's been a remarkable season and it will be fascinating to watch him next year to see if he can reproduce this type of production.
Morse is eligible for arbitration following the season and will certainly be due a huge raise from this year's $1.05 million salary. The slugger then becomes a free agent after the 2014 season, when he'll be 32. These next two arbitration seasons will be huge for Morse financially and baseball-wise. But regardless of the eventuality, Morse has had a spectacular season in 2011 any way you slice it.
THE GOOD: The offense. It seems these days that it all shows up on the same day or not at all. 12 hits, four home runs, seven runs. Five players with multi-hit days. Dare to dream.
THE BAD: Ryan Zimmerman. Had an crummy day at the plate, going 0-for-4 with a K and two LOB.
THE UGLY: Danny Espinosa took the "golden sombrero", striking out swinging in each of his four plate appearances.
THE STATS: 12 hits, zero walks, 12 strikeouts. 1-for-5 w/RISP, six LOB. E: Espinosa (13).
NEXT GAME: Weather permitting, and it's very iffy right now, tomorrow at 7:05 pm against the Dodgers. Stephen Strasburg makes his (hopefully) triumphant return from Tommy John surgery against Ted Lilly (9-13, 4.39).