After an 81-minute rain delay at the start, the first long ball came in the bottom of the first inning, when Adam LaRoche hit a 2-0 pitch from right-hander Kevin Gausman over the right-center-field fence for a three-run homer. The home run extended the Nationals' streak of 73 series with at least one home run, the longest active streak in Major League Baseball.
By the fourth inning, however, Baltimore would tie the score at 3 against right-hander Nathan Karns, who made his Major League debut for the Nationals. Like Gausman, Karns was hurt by the long ball. After allowing an RBI double to Matt Wieters in the second inning, Karns surrendered solo home runs to Chris Davis and J.J. Hardy in the fourth.
Karns was still in the game when Washington rallied for four runs in the fourth inning off Gausman. After LaRoche drew a walk, Tyler Moore hit an 0-2 pitch over the left-field wall for his second home run of the season to give Washington a 5-3 lead.
Roger Bernadina followed and hit his first home run of the season. It marked the second time this season the Nationals had hit back-to back home runs. Prior to Tuesday, LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman hit consecutive home runs against the Padres on May 17.
"It was good after yesterday's blowout. It's nice to come back," LaRoche said. "We've done it a few times lately. We'll score some runs and add on late."
Wieters has an idea why Gausman struggled on the mound.
"[Gausman] was able to mix in the slider for a strike a little bit. He couldn't quite get the changeup over for a strike early," Wieters said. "I think the biggest thing is the command of the fastball."
Washington added another run in the fourth, when Kurt Suzuki scored on a double by Denard Span.
"It was great to see [the offense come back to life]," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "Some guys usually take two or three strikes, and they went up there and hit line drives. We jumped all over a 97 mile-an-hour fastball, and that made my whole night."
Karns wasn't able to pick up the first victory of his career. He was taken out of the game with one out in the fifth inning after struggling to find the plate. Karns walked Nate McLouth and Manny Machado with one out before Johnson took him out in favor of Zach Duke, who was able to get Nick Markakis to hit into a double play to end the threat.
Johnson felt Karns ran out of gas in the fifth inning.
"He wasn't anywhere close," Johnson said.
It was obvious to Johnson that Karns was nervous before the game started. The delay didn't help, and LaRoche said Karns worked up a sweat before the first pitch.
"Everyone is going to be nervous for the first time," Karns said. "I was really anxious. I just hate sitting around waiting for my turn with the rain delay. It kind of made the buildup a little more. Once I got out there and got that first inning through, it felt great."
But Karns was good enough to earn his second start of the season, against the Braves on Sunday. Left-hander Ross Detwiler needs more time to recover from an oblique injury.
"I thought [Nathan] handled himself well, first start against a good hitting ballclub, Johnson said. "I know he was nervous, but I like the way he went after the hitters. He is in for another start."
Karns is happy to get the first start out of the way.
"I just want to get out there and throw strikes, work getting the hitters out. It worked to my advantage," Karns said.
LaRoche knocked his second homer of the game, a solo shot, in the eighth inning off O's reliever Troy Patton, while Bernadina added an RBI single to complete his 2-for-4, two-RBI night.
Duke was able to get his first victory of the season, while Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Fernando Abad blanked the Orioles the rest of the way.
But the runs scored were not enough to compel Johnson to shave. He had vowed to take off his whiskers after the team started scoring at least five runs in a game.
"After Bernadina and Moore went deep, you want me to shave?," Johnson asked. "I can't shave right now."
With the victory, the Nationals improved to 27-25 and now travel to Baltimore to continue the Battle of the Beltways series against the Orioles on Wednesday night.
"In our lineup, three-fourths of it has been dormant, so it was huge today," Johnson said. "And then we are going to a hitters' ballpark. We need to be swinging the bat."