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Blowout win carries Nats into September

Blowout win carries Nats into September

Chants of "Let's go Gio!" as the ninth inning began. A Gatorade shower and shaving cream pie to the face that came moments later. Thumping music in the clubhouse after another lopsided victory. And then applause from those remaining players watching the Braves blow a ninth-inning lead to the Phillies.

These are the sights and sounds of a pennant race, and Washington is smack-dab in the middle of one right now.

A 10-0 whitewashing of the Cardinals Friday night gave the Nationals as many wins as they posted in all of 2011 -- one shy of the club record -- with 31 games still to play. Atlanta's meltdown shortly after extended Washington's lead to 6 12 games and lowered the magic number for the NL East title to 25.

"We have a long ways to go, and we haven't done anything yet," Ryan Zimmerman cautioned. "But what we have done is give this city a baseball team to cheer for, and they've wanted that for a long time."

Zimmerman and others have insisted for five months it was too early to focus on the standings, too early to consider themselves in a pennant race. Hate to break it to you, Ryan, but September has arrived and your team is humming along, playing as well as anyone in the majors.

Sure, there was that minor bump in the road earlier in the week, that five-game losing streak that left many around town wondering whether it was time to panic. Then Davey Johnson closed the clubhouse door in Miami before Wednesday's game, rallied the troops with an upbeat, positive speech and all they've done since is terrorize whatever poor opponent had the misfortune of sitting in the other dugout.

In three games since that meeting, the Nationals have outscored the Marlins and Cardinals 24-5 and put to rest any doubts that may have been creeping up during the losing streak.

"That's what a great manager does," Gio Gonzalez said. "A great manager sees a little glitch in the system, he fixes it up and gets us back going. That little speech he had for us was one of a kind."

Perhaps nobody took the message more to heart than Gonzalez, who suffered one of the losses during that streak but returned Friday night with perhaps his most dominant performance of the season. Scattering four singles, a double and two walks, the left-hander notched the first shutout of his big-league career, finishing this one off on his 119th pitch of the evening.

And he did it with one notable distraction in his field of vision: His mother.

Yes, seated right behind the plate was Yoly Gonzalez, cheering on her son throughout his milestone performance and yelling at St. Louis' batters and Washington's fielders alike.

"I was like: 'Oh god, somebody's got to keep her quiet over there,'" Gio Gonzalez said.

In the end, Yoli joined the rest of the 29,499 in attendance in chanting "Let's go Gio!" during the top of the ninth, then rejoicing as he got Shane Robinson to loft a fly ball to center field for the final out.

Standing on the mound, Gonzalez heard it all.

"Man, it was just one of those things were you can't explain it," he said. "It felt like it was a boost of energy, kind of like having a Red Bull right there in the ninth."

Not that the Nationals needed much of a boost the way they stormed out of the gates and took out Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright in staggering fashion. The former 20-game winner faced only 20 batters over 2 23 innings. Twelve of them safely reached base.

Everyone in the Nationals' lineup other than Michael Morse both recorded a hit and scored a run.

"We're having good at-bats, and everybody's hitting in good situations and everybody's coming up clutch," said rookie Bryce Harper, who had a pair of singles and drove in two runs. "When one guy hits, everybody hits. That's the biggest thing. Everybody's going up there with confidence."

Not a bad mindset to have as the calendar shifts to September and D.C. experiences the final month of its first pennant race in three generations.

Even if a few players are still trying not to get caught up in the hysteria.

"There's a long way to go," Zimmerman said yet again. There'll be a long way to go until there's not any way to go. That's the way we're looking at it. We're not taking anything for granted. We're not satisfied with what we've done. We've put ourselves in a good position, and I think if we can take anything out of what we've done, that's all we can take."

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Lobaton’s sacrifice fly lifts Mets past Nationals in 12

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USA TODAY Sports

Lobaton’s sacrifice fly lifts Mets past Nationals in 12

Jose Lobaton hit a go-ahead sacrifice fly against his former team in the 12th inning and the New York Mets beat the Washington Nationals 5-4 on Thursday night.

Lobaton, who spent the previous four years in Washington before signing with the Mets in December, lofted a one-out fly ball off Jefry Rodriguez (3-3) with the bases loaded to score Amed Rosario.

Jacob Rhame (1-2) worked two scoreless innings, and Paul Sewald pitched the 12th for his second save.

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper was ejected in the 12th for arguing home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn’s called third strike.

Washington starter Max Scherzer pitched seven innings, allowing three runs while striking out 13. He has 290 strikeouts this year, the most for a National since the franchise relocated from Montreal before the 2005 season. Scherzer set the previous mark of 284 in 2016.

However, he never held a lead Thursday. Michael Conforto smashed a two-run homer to left in the third, his 27th of the season. It was also his fourth home run in 23 career at-bats against Scherzer.

Four pitches later, Jay Bruce crushed his ninth home run of the season. It was the sixth time this season New York has hit back-to-back homers.

Washington’s Trea Turner led off the sixth with an infield single. Two batters later, Anthony Rendon golfed Jason Vargas’ changeup to deep left for his 100th career home run to narrow the deficit to 3-2. Vargas allowed two runs and struck out eight over 5 2/3 innings.

Jeff McNeil led off the eighth with a triple and scored two batters later when Bruce punched a single to right past a drawn-in infield. But the Nationals responded with Rendon’s run-scoring groundout and Juan Soto’s RBI double off Robert Gsellman in the bottom half of the inning.

Mets manager Mickey Callaway was ejected in the 10th inning for arguing after Reyburn ruled McNeil had offered on a bunt attempt.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: INF Wilmer Flores will miss the rest of the season with soreness in both knees. Callaway said Flores has early onset arthritis in both knees and will receive injections to alleviate the pain. “It’s not like surgery is recommended at this time,” Callaway said. “I think rest and a couple injections is supposed to knock this out pretty good.”

UP NEXT

Mets: RHP Jacob deGrom (8-9, 1.78 ERA), who is 5-1 with a 2.76 ERA lifetime at Nationals Park, gets the nod for New York as the four-game series continues.

Nationals: RHP Joe Ross (0-0, 3.60) makes his second start since undergoing Tommy John surgery last year.

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Anthony Rendon reaches home run milestone

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USA Today Sports

Anthony Rendon reaches home run milestone

For a guy whose nickname reflects how many doubles he hits, Anthony Rendon has quite the power as well.

Rendon, referred to as "Tony Two Bags" by the Washington Nationals' faithful, hit his 100th career home run on Thursday night. 

The home run came off New York Mets pitcher Jason Vargas, who has been magnificent in his two starts against the Nationals this season. Vargas had not allowed a run against the Nationals in 2018 until Rendon took him deep.

The home run was Rendon's 22nd of the season. This is the third consecutive year that Rendon has posted 20 or more home runs, and the fourth time in the 28-year-old's career that he has reached that milestone.

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