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Benches clear twice as Nats sweep Cubs

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Benches clear twice as Nats sweep Cubs

It had only been 48 days since the Nationals carried a nine-run lead into the sixth inning of a crucial game against the Braves and watched it all crumble away in horrifying fashion. So when they entered the fifth inning Thursday night against the Cubs, leading this time by five runs, they weren't about to ease off the gas pedal.

Thus, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa each stole second base off Chicago rookie reliever Lendy Castillo. And later, Jayson Werth was given the green light to swing away at a 3-0 pitch with the bases loaded.

It all seemed fairly innocuous, just another example of the Nationals steamrolling the Cubs during what wound up a 9-2 victory and a four-game sweep by a combined score of 31-9. Except for Jamie Quirk, Chicago's normally mild-mannered bench coach, who started jawing at Werth and third base coach Bo Porter and in the process prompted both clubs' benches and bullpens twice to empty and engage in a mild fracas that resulted in the ejections of Quirk and three players.

"I mean, if they get mad at my guys in the fifth inning swinging 3-0 or running, they better get used to it," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.

Just like that, a four-game series that otherwise would have been notable for the beating the 85-52 Nationals put on the 51-85 Cubs ended with a bang, a war of words, hot tempers and a debate on proper baseball etiquette.

"I think I'd be pretty pissed off if I was getting my teeth kicked in all weekend, too, but you can't lay down," said rookie Bryce Harper, who figured prominently in the incident. "The Braves series, they came back after we were up 9-0. So you can't lay low. You've got to keep going, keep grinding, keep coming."

By the time the fifth inning arrived Thursday night, the Nationals led 7-2, having scored 27 runs over their last 20 offensive innings. They kept the pressure up, with Johnson allowing both Desmond and Espinosa to steal second base and later letting Werth swing away on a 3-0 count.

During an ensuing delay while Chicago catcher Steve Clevenger sought a new mitt, Quirk began yelling at Porter, who wound up approaching the visitors' dugout and nearly entering it to engage with his coaching counterpart as both benches and bullpens emptied.

Porter wouldn't reveal details of what Quirk said -- or what he said back -- but defended his strong response.

"When it comes to our players, I'm very passionate."

Quirk wound up getting ejected, with Porter allowed to remain in the game but told in no uncertain terms he needed to return to the coaching box and not leave it again.

"He got very close to being out of order himself," crew chief Jerry Layne told a pool reporter. "Had he got into the dugout and started a fracas, he would have been ejected. But I thought this was all stemming from what Jamie Quirk did, and he started it. So I got the person that started it."

Order was quickly restored and the game continued without incident until the bottom of the sixth opened with Castillo throwing his first pitch well inside and just missing Harper's right hip. Harper took a step toward the mound and said a few words to Castillo, causing both benches and bullpen to empty again.

"Going up in that situation, I thought something was going to happen, because of what happened before," Harper said. "That's just baseball, I guess."

Said Chicago manager Dale Sveum: "Castillo's a Rule 5 kid that's thrown a lot of those pitches today. There was no intention to hit Bryce Harper."

Order appeared to be restored again, and players were beginning to retreat to their respective dugouts and bullpens when another tussle began near first base. By the time everything was cleared, Clevenger (who aggressively shoved Nationals left fielder Michael Morse), Cubs reliever Manny Corpas and Nationals reliever Michael Gonzalez were all ejected.

"You don't come into our house, and you can't mess with our kid brother," Gonzalez said. "That's how we see it."

Through the entire scene, Harper remained on the fray, veteran teammate Ryan Zimmerman by his side and making sure the 19-year-old didn't get let his emotions get the best of him.

"I wasn't going to do anything stupid," Harper said. "I'm just trying to check off everything on my list. I've gotten thrown at, gotten hit, stole home, we're winning, homers, everything that's going on. Just checking it off the list. That's one of them. Just trying to stay calm in that situation and not do anything stupid."

That was the prevailing sentiment for everyone on the Nationals' side: Don't do anything that might jeopardize your ability to appear in the final 25 games of a pennant race by taking the bait from a team playing out the string of a miserable season.

"We got a lot more to lose," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "I think that's why Nationals coaches were trying to get everybody back and say: 'Listen, if one of us does something, it's going to cost us a lot more than one of their guys at this point in the year.' I think for the most part, guys kept their head on their shoulders. It didn't get too out of control. That's not what we need this time of year."

Thus, Jordan Zimmermann took the mound for the top of the seventh and went back to work, striking out a pair of batters to complete one of his best starts in a month and secure his 10th win of the season. Relievers Tom Gorzelanny and Christian Garcia then finished it off, completing a four-game sweep that leaves the Nationals 33 games over .500 and still holding a 7 12-game lead over the Braves in the NL East.

Over in the visitors' clubhouse, the Cubs were again left dazed and demoralized by what the best team in baseball had done to them over the last four nights.

"It's probably one of the biggest butt-whuppings I've ever gotten in my career, as a coach or player," Sveum said. "I don't remember getting manhandled that bad in any kind of series I've ever been a part of."

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Nationals sign former Orioles All-Star catcher Matt Wieters

Nationals sign former Orioles All-Star catcher Matt Wieters

The Washington Nationals have signed former Orioles All-Star catcher Matt Wieters to a one-year deal with a player option for a second year, according to multiple reports. 

Wieters spent the first eight years in the Majors with the Baltimore Orioles, being named to the AL All-Star team four times and winning two gold glove awards. Last season the switch-hitting catcher posted a .243 average with 17 homers and 66 RBI.  

The Nationals have been in the market for catchers all offseason after Wilson Ramos left for Tampa Bay in free agency. The team traded for former Padres catcher Derek Norris, whose role is now in question. The Nationals still have Jose Lobaton on the roster as a strong defensive backup catcher who has a proven rapport with many of the pitchers in the Nationals rotation. Wieters had been linked to the Nationals all offseason because of the team's need a the position and because of the Nationals close relationship with Wieters' agent Scott Boras. 

The only significant time that Wieters has missed due to injury in his career came in 2014-15 when he had Tommy John surgury. Prior to that surgury, however, Wieters had played in at least 130 games for four straight seasons and became a large part of the Orioles' identity. 

The 30-year-old backstop will give the Nationals lineup more depth and power. Wieters had three consecutive 20-homer seasons from 2011-13 and since 2009 when his career began, he ranks fifth among catchers in all of baseball in home runs with 117. 

Related: Nationals 2017 promotional schedule includes snow globes and fedoras

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Nationals 2017 promotional giveaways include snow globes and fedoras

Nationals 2017 promotional giveaways include snow globes and fedoras

The Washington Nationals recently released the dates of their promotional days and giveaways this season, and there are some real gems in this schedule.

Among the standard bobblehead giveaways — Daniel Murphy on April 14, Trea Turner on May 12 and Tanner Roark on June 9 — and the highly recommended Pups in the Park days — April 29, May 13, June 10, June 25, September 7 and September 30 — pick the right game and you could get a snow globe, an American flag shirt or even a fedora. Seriously.

On May 24’s game against the Mariners, the first 25,000 fans will get a Max Scherzer snow globe, which has the potential to be the coolest knickknack in your house. Or on June 14 against the Braves — oddly not closer to the Fourth of July — Budweiser is behind the first 15,000 21-and-up fans getting an American flag tank top.

But truly the most unique item on this list is the Nationals-themed fedora, which will go to the first 25,000 fans at the Brewers’ July 26 matchup. How the Nats landed on this promotional item remains a mystery, but if you like hats beyond a traditional baseball cap, this is the game to attend.

Other cool or oddball promotions include the Nats Magic 8-Ball game April 3, the Chewbacca Koozie day May 27, Bryce Harper action figure day August 29 and Oktoberfest beer stein day Sept. 29.

Here's the complete list of the team's promotional days and giveaways

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