Nationals romp with big third inning vs. Giants

Nationals romp with big third inning vs. Giants

Nationals romp with big third inning vs. Giants
SAN FRANCISCO -- So much for three days of pitchers' duels at AT&T Park.

The Nationals blew open Monday's series opener against the Giants with a seven-run third inning against Ryan Vogelsong, who entered the night as the National League ERA leader, and continued to pile on the runs as they cruised to a 14-2 victory.

In doing so, Washington increased its NL East lead to a season-high 5 1/2 games, as Atlanta lost to San Diego on Monday. The Nats also ripped the NL ERA lead away from Vogelsong, leaving it in the hands of Jordan Zimmermann, who starts Tuesday night.

"[Vogelsong's] a good pitcher. You don't put up the numbers that he's put up this year without being good," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "We just got some big hits tonight, and that's just the way it went."

The talk before the game was about how the dominant Washington rotation would square off against a lock-down San Francisco staff, how fans in China Basin were due for three straight low-scoring affairs. Giants manager Bruce Bochy praised the Nats' staff, and Davey Johnson spoke highly of the Giants' "awfully good pitching."

By the time the night was finished, Washington had set a season high with 14 runs scored, tied a season high with 21 hits, become the first team since Colorado in September 2008 to score at least 14 runs against the Giants in San Francisco and set an AT&T Park hits record.

Somehow, in the supposed dog days of the season, the Nationals are finding ways to continually get better. Credit the fact that key players have gotten healthy, that they've gotten hot or that they've simply put it all together, but the fact of the matter is the Nationals are 28 games above .500 with the best record in baseball. And aside from a few flat outings like Sunday's loss in Arizona, they aren't showing any signs of letting up.

"It's tough when everyone's not healthy to put together our offense," shortstop Danny Espinosa said. "Lately, everyone's been in a groove."

Vogelsong, on the other hand, had been dominant all season, especially at home, until Monday night. The Nationals made short work of him. They scored one run in the first inning, just the second run Vogelsong has allowed all season in the opening frame, when Zimmerman doubled home Steve Lombardozzi from first.

The Nationals were all over Vogelsong, whom they had never faced, in the third inning. Washington put up its biggest inning of 2012, scored eight runs off Vogelsong, a career high, and ended his streak of 22 straight starts of at least six innings.

In the third, Gio Gonzalez struck out twice, while the Nats' hitters drew two walks and went 7-for-7 vs. Vogelsong, even if some of them were infield hits kicked around by San Francisco.

"There's not a lot to say. There was tough luck out there as well as the base hits," Bochy said. "They were all tough places. They weren't easy plays. It was one of those nights. What could go wrong went wrong."

Adam LaRoche scored the first run by drawing a bases-loaded walk. Michael Morse extended his hitting streak to 11 games with an RBI single. Espinosa, Roger Bernadina and Kurt Suzuki all drove in at least one run as the Nats brought 12 batters to the plate that third inning.

It wasn't over, either. Washington put up three more runs in the fourth on Bernadina's double and Suzuki's single. Bryce Harper scored another in the fifth with his usual brand of hustle. He reached on a single, took third with some heads-up baserunning on a groundout to second base by LaRoche and scored on a wild pitch by Brad Penny.

Thinking some might take that type of effort -- which the Nats displayed all night long on the basepaths, at the plate and on diving catches like Bernadina's in left field -- as running up the score, Johnson defended his players' mentality. They've been burned by failing to do such little things in the past, he said.

"I never want my team to ever quit competing, and I don't expect the team that we're playing to ever quit competing," Johnson said. "... It's a losing attitude when you take things for granted. ... They can come after me. My players are going to keep competing."

The Nats tacked on two more runs in the fifth when Espinosa cracked a two-run homer, his fourth of the year, to straightaway center field.

"We're very happy with what we've done. It's not a very hitter-friendly park," Espinosa said. "You don't change your approach. You just go out there and try to hit the ball."

Amid all that, Gonzalez dominated a Giants lineup that scored 18 runs over the last two days. Coming off his first nine-inning complete game in Houston, the lefty struck out four and gave up six hits in 6 2/3 innings, the only mark against him coming on Brandon Crawford's two-run homer in the seventh inning.

"They're going out there swinging it," Gonzalez said of his offense. "It just felt like you could just feel this energy inside the dugout where everyone was just pulling for everyone. As the starting pitcher, you see that. You automatically have to pick that up and try to bring them back in here as soon as possible. Once they get hot, you don't want to cool them off."

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.