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Blowout win is cathartic for Nats

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Blowout win is cathartic for Nats

It seems like an odd notion, given the manner in which they've stormed out to the top of the NL East through the season's first month, but the Nationals really needed to do today exactly what they did.

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 havent 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.

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Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez became the first former Nationals player (2005-present) to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday. He was inducted in his first year of eligibility, marking the 52nd first-ballot hall of famer in history. 

Rodriguez, who was the first free agent signed by current Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, played the final two seasons of his career with Washington in 2010-11. During his time in D.C. he hit .254 six homers and 68 RBI. Pudge's greatest contribution to the Nationals came from his leadership and work ethic. He guided Stephen Strasburg through his rookie season and also helped develop Wilson Ramos so he could pass the torch to him. 

During his 21-year career, Pudge made 14 all-star teams, won 13 gold gloves, won seven silver slugger awards, led his league in caught-steeling percentage nine times, and was named American League MVP in 1999 with the Texas Rangers. He became a World Series champion in 2003 with the Florida Marlins. Pudge's 13 gold gloves are the most ever by a catcher, and his 2,844 career hits are the most ever by a player who appeared in 50 percent or more of their career games as a catcher.  

In addition to Rodriguez, former Montreal Expos great Tim Raines was inducted to the Hall of Fame. Raines is the franchise leader (Expos/Nationals) in walks (793), runs (947), stolen bases (635) and triples (82). Raines was an all-star seven times and he won a silver slugger in 1986 with the Expos. He is the only player in MLB history with at least 100 triples, 150 homers and 600 RBI in a career, and the only player to steal at least 70 bases in six consecutive seasons. 

Related: Bryce Harper wants Nationals to spend money on players, not team store

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Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper isn't one to keep his opinions to himself. The Nationals slugger is outspoken about what he wants, whether that's to "Make Baseball Fun Again" or to make at least $400 million on his next contract

On Wednesday, he gave his take on how the Nats should be investing their money this summer. Here's Harper responding to a tweet from ESPN's Jim Bowden.

Harper's message: Players over everything else. Sorry, gift shop. 

It's plain to see where the 2015 NL MVP is going with this. Obviously, he wants as much talent around him as possible for a chance to win the World Series. 

Matt Wieters, a four-time All-Star catcher, and Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer, could be significant additions to Washington's roster. 

Harper is set to become a free agent in 2018, at which point an organization like the New York Yankees will be prepared to offer him both a massive salary and a massive investment in the players around him.

The slugger probably hopes his current team will try to surround him with winning pieces in an effort to keep him. But if a report about the Nationals' reaction to his contract demands proves accurate, they may have another agenda. 

There's Harper drama around the Nationals? Just a regular Wednesday here in Washington.

MORE NATIONALS: Nationals avoid arbitration with Harper, three others