Associated Press photo
Jayson Werth is congratulated after hitting a three-run homer.
Seven innings of one-run ball from Gio Gonzalez? Check.
A rare offensive explosion, ignited by Jayson Werth's first home run and RBI in nine days? Double-check.
And a blowout victory over the Phillies, dealing yet another blow to the five-time kings of the division and their legion of fans who attempted to invade South Capitol Street yet again? Triple-check.
Perhaps one word best describes today's 7-1 thumping at Nationals Park: Catharsis.
After battling their way through nothing but tense nailbiters on a nightly basis, after failing to capitalize on countless scoring opportunities, after playing pinata to the Phillies' 34-ounce Louisville Slugger and watching their ballpark overtaken by fans from the north, it felt like the Nationals exorcised all their demons over the course of 2 hours and 27 minutes of domination.
"It feels like they have a chip on their shoulder," Philadelphia right fielder Hunter Pence said.
Ya think? After getting stomped on by their division rivals for years and after holding little stature around the baseball world, the Nationals have finally arrived. And they want everyone to know it.
"We're going to come out and keep doing what we're doing, hopefully, and I think everyone will recognize we're for real," first baseman Chad Tracy said. "We know it. Now it's just a matter of everybody else figuring it out."
The Phillies have certainly figured it out over the last 24 hours. In losing the first two games of this series, they've been outscored 11-4 and outhit 29-11.
The domination extends farther back, though, because this actually was the Nationals' seventh consecutive win over Philadelphia, their 11th win in their last 13 head-to-head meetings.
Check out the NL East standings at this moment. In first place, at 18-9: the Washington Nationals. Tied for last place, at 13-15, the Philadelphia Phillies.
"I felt like the ballclub we were bringing to the ballpark last year when we went into Philly, that we could play with them," manager Davey Johnson said. "I think all we're doing right now is reaffirming that we can play with them. They're shorthanded. We're shorthanded, probably more so than them. But we can still compete with them, and I think that's a good message to send."
The Nationals sent all kinds of messages during this rare, lopsided victory. Their rotation again solidified its current standing as the best quintet in baseball, with Gonzalez scattering four doubles over seven sparkling innings and lowering his ERA to 1.72 in the process.
That the left-hander did this on the heels of Friday night's 11-inning marathon, with his bullpen needing a breather, only added to the significance.
"[Catcher Wilson] Ramos was thinking ahead of me," Gonzalez said. "He was thinking nine. And I was just like: 'One step at a time. Let me go out there and try to pound the strike zone and see what happens.' You can't think that far ahead with this lineup. All I was trying to do was match them and try to stay with Worley."
Gonzalez more than matched Phillies right-hander Vance Worley, who was pounded for five runs and 11 hits over six innings, one of those Gonzalez's leadoff double in the fifth. That surprise blast to right-center set the stage for Werth, who belted a 1-0 pitch over the left-field fence for a three-run homer.
Werth's blast drew a roar from the crowd of 39,496 and brought some relief to the right fielder, who had previously stranded seven runners on base in this series against his former team.
"I was a little frustrated," Werth said. "I got some opportunities, but I haven’t come through. So to get the hit there, it was good."
The Nationals weren't finished, by any means. Ian Desmond clubbed a solo homer to center off Worley in the sixth. Tracy then added a two-run shot, his second home run in as many days, off left-hander Joe Savery to complete the explosion.
Members of Washington's rotation have often talked about the manner in which they feed off each other's performances. Does the same apply to a lineup?
"No doubt about it," Tracy said. "You see that guy in front of you go deep, and it just lets you know that this guy's stuff is not that good today. He's going to make mistakes. It pushes each other."
By the time Ryan Mattheus got Ty Wigginton to ground into a game-ending double play, a loose Nationals squad celebrated in the middle of the diamond with a near-full house cheering on, while a suddenly downtrodden Phillies club (and its fans) sulked away trying to figure out what just happened.
Yes, it's only two games out of 162. But come September, these two teams might just look back on this weekend as a turning point, as the weekend when the Nationals not only took back their ballpark but finally took out the guys who have bullied them for too many years.