Nationals take down Garza with 5-run first inning

Nationals take down Garza with 5-run first inning
July 20, 2014, 12:15 am
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After watching his team rack up 11 hits Friday night yet only push two runs across the plate, Nationals manager Matt Williams could only shake his head and ponder the mysteries of this great game.

"That's baseball, dude," he muttered following a 4-2 loss to the Brewers.

Baseball taketh away, but it also giveth as Williams and the Nationals found out Saturday night. Despite only one well-struck ball, they somehow managed to score five runs in the first inning Saturday night, knock out Milwaukee starter Matt Garza and cruise on their way to an 8-3 victory that moved them back into a first-place tie with the Braves.

"You need some luck every now and then, too," said Ryan Zimmerman, whose groundball single up the middle brought home two of his team's runs in the big opening inning.

There perhaps was some luck involved this time, though give some credit to a Nationals lineup that made Garza work, forcing the veteran to throw 42 pitches to eight batters, drawing a pair of walks while also delivering three hits with two strikes.

The explosion began innocently enough, with Denard Span lofting a leadoff single into shallow right field to cap a 7-pitch at-bat. When Anthony Rendon struck out on three pitches, Garza looked like he had everything in control.

But then Jayson Werth blooped a double to right, and that's when things started to fall apart for the Milwaukee starter. Garza walked Adam LaRoche, served up Zimmerman's 2-run single on 1-2 pitch, walked Bryce Harper and then watched helplessly as Ian Desmond beat out a dribbler to shortstop.

And when Wilson Ramos laced his own 2-run single to center, Garza's night came an abrupt — and historic — conclusion. He is the first starting pitcher the Nationals have knocked out after only one-third of an inning, with no injury forcing the departure.

"I felt fine," Garza told reporters. "Nothing felt off. Just started off the game with a gem shot single, another bad break and then Zim hit a four-hopper up the middle. ... They battled. They fouled off a lot of pitches."

It may sound simple, but the Nationals did have to strike a balance in that inning, recognizing Garza's command wasn't on while also taking advantages of what opportunities they did get to swing the bat.

"You want to be aggressive; we've got an opportunity for a crooked number there," Williams said. "I think the big at-bat there was Wilson. He got behind, got to two strikes and hit a slider. That's a big cushion there and extended the inning. ... You never count on putting up that many runs in the first inning, but it certainly provides cushion for your pitcher and lets him relax and go to work."

Ramos' 2-run single was only the first of three hits on the night for the Nationals catcher, who drove in another run in the third and now is hitting .295 for the season, including .349 when batting eighth in their lineup.

Not everyone is comfortable hitting eighth in the NL, with opponents often pitching around you to get to the pitcher in the on-deck circle. Ramos, though, has never worried about that and approaches his at-bats as an 8-hitter no different.

"For me, I came to this team hitting most of the time in the 8-hole," he said. "Every time I go up there, I'm just looking for one pitch. I'm looking for one pitch, make a good swing, put the ball in play and see what happens. I don't care if I'm hitting fourth, fifth, sixth. I just go out there and try to do my job."

Ramos and the Nationals didn't let up once they drove Garza out of the game. They added three more runs off Marco Estrada, ensuring a potent Brewers lineup wouldn't so much as sniff the possibility of a comeback.

"You can’t stop," Zimmerman said. "The hardest thing to do, and the biggest thing you need to do, is keep piling on runs, especially with a team like that that can score runs. I thought we did a good job of doing that. But getting a lot of runs in the first inning is a big help."