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Blowout win carries Nats into September

Blowout win carries Nats into September

Chants of "Let's go Gio!" as the ninth inning began. A Gatorade shower and shaving cream pie to the face that came moments later. Thumping music in the clubhouse after another lopsided victory. And then applause from those remaining players watching the Braves blow a ninth-inning lead to the Phillies.

These are the sights and sounds of a pennant race, and Washington is smack-dab in the middle of one right now.

A 10-0 whitewashing of the Cardinals Friday night gave the Nationals as many wins as they posted in all of 2011 -- one shy of the club record -- with 31 games still to play. Atlanta's meltdown shortly after extended Washington's lead to 6 12 games and lowered the magic number for the NL East title to 25.

"We have a long ways to go, and we haven't done anything yet," Ryan Zimmerman cautioned. "But what we have done is give this city a baseball team to cheer for, and they've wanted that for a long time."

Zimmerman and others have insisted for five months it was too early to focus on the standings, too early to consider themselves in a pennant race. Hate to break it to you, Ryan, but September has arrived and your team is humming along, playing as well as anyone in the majors.

Sure, there was that minor bump in the road earlier in the week, that five-game losing streak that left many around town wondering whether it was time to panic. Then Davey Johnson closed the clubhouse door in Miami before Wednesday's game, rallied the troops with an upbeat, positive speech and all they've done since is terrorize whatever poor opponent had the misfortune of sitting in the other dugout.

In three games since that meeting, the Nationals have outscored the Marlins and Cardinals 24-5 and put to rest any doubts that may have been creeping up during the losing streak.

"That's what a great manager does," Gio Gonzalez said. "A great manager sees a little glitch in the system, he fixes it up and gets us back going. That little speech he had for us was one of a kind."

Perhaps nobody took the message more to heart than Gonzalez, who suffered one of the losses during that streak but returned Friday night with perhaps his most dominant performance of the season. Scattering four singles, a double and two walks, the left-hander notched the first shutout of his big-league career, finishing this one off on his 119th pitch of the evening.

And he did it with one notable distraction in his field of vision: His mother.

Yes, seated right behind the plate was Yoly Gonzalez, cheering on her son throughout his milestone performance and yelling at St. Louis' batters and Washington's fielders alike.

"I was like: 'Oh god, somebody's got to keep her quiet over there,'" Gio Gonzalez said.

In the end, Yoli joined the rest of the 29,499 in attendance in chanting "Let's go Gio!" during the top of the ninth, then rejoicing as he got Shane Robinson to loft a fly ball to center field for the final out.

Standing on the mound, Gonzalez heard it all.

"Man, it was just one of those things were you can't explain it," he said. "It felt like it was a boost of energy, kind of like having a Red Bull right there in the ninth."

Not that the Nationals needed much of a boost the way they stormed out of the gates and took out Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright in staggering fashion. The former 20-game winner faced only 20 batters over 2 23 innings. Twelve of them safely reached base.

Everyone in the Nationals' lineup other than Michael Morse both recorded a hit and scored a run.

"We're having good at-bats, and everybody's hitting in good situations and everybody's coming up clutch," said rookie Bryce Harper, who had a pair of singles and drove in two runs. "When one guy hits, everybody hits. That's the biggest thing. Everybody's going up there with confidence."

Not a bad mindset to have as the calendar shifts to September and D.C. experiences the final month of its first pennant race in three generations.

Even if a few players are still trying not to get caught up in the hysteria.

"There's a long way to go," Zimmerman said yet again. There'll be a long way to go until there's not any way to go. That's the way we're looking at it. We're not taking anything for granted. We're not satisfied with what we've done. We've put ourselves in a good position, and I think if we can take anything out of what we've done, that's all we can take."

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Nationals beat Houston for the ninth straight time

Nationals beat Houston for the ninth straight time

HOUSTON -- Matt Wieters hit a two-run homer, Howie Kendrick had a two-run triple and the Washington Nationals beat Houston for the ninth straight time, 4-3 Tuesday night in a matchup of division leaders.

Washington's winning streak over the Astros dates to 2012. The Nationals have won 13 of 14 against Houston since 2011.

Kendrick's triple tied it in the third before the Astros went back on top with an RBI single by Josh Reddick in the bottom half. Anthony Rendon doubled with two outs in the fourth before the homer by Wieters, which landed just to the right of straightaway center field, gave the NL East leaders a 4-3 lead.

Tanner Roark (10-8) allowed six hits and two earned runs in 5 2-3 innings and Sean Doolittle pitched a perfect ninth for his 15th save.

Charlie Morton (10-6) gave up four runs in six innings for the AL West-leading Astros.

The Astros threatened in the eighth against Brandon Kintzler when Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles and the Nationals intentionally walked Carlos Beltran with one out to load the bases. But Max Stassi grounded into a double play to leave Houston trailing.

George Springer led off the Houston first with a single, stole second and scored on a two-out single by Reddick.

Beltran doubled off the wall in left-center field in the second and scored on a single by Derek Fisher.

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Why Nationals' Max Scherzer picked college over pros — at first

Why Nationals' Max Scherzer picked college over pros — at first

When Max Scherzer was a teenager, he didn't know that one day he'd actually become a two-time Cy Young Award winner. He had no guarantee he'd make it to the majors, much less play in five consecutive MLB All-Star games. 

All he knew was that he had the option to go pro as a kid or go to college, and back then, the Nationals' ace needed a contingency plan in case baseball didn't work out. Fortunately for Scherzer, it did, but he doesn't regret going to college at the University of Missouri, telling Santana Moss on CSN's "Route 89" going to school was a no-brainer.

"It was actually a really easy decision," Scherzer told Moss. "When you get drafted out of high school, you're going to be going into the minor leagues, and that can take three to five or six years — multiple years — in the minor leagues, and you're forfeiting your right to further your education."

Scherzer was drafted in the 43rd round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003, but he opted to play for Mizzou for three years, which turned out to be a great decision. The Arizona Diamondbacks then drafted him in 2006 in the first round as the 11th overall pick. 

"A lot of times when you sign out of high school, you don't make it to the major leagues," Scherzer continued. "So I realize that your education — that's your safety net.

"You need to further your education in college, and if you do get drafted out of college, you're in a much better position to try to chase your dreams because if it doesn't work out, you still have one year left of school and that's much easier to obtain rather than try to go through four years when you're not coming out of high school."

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