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Nats' Jose Lobaton's series-changing homer defied odds, elements

Nats' Jose Lobaton's series-changing homer defied odds, elements

Jose Lobaton's three-run, series-altering homer to lift the Nationals to an NLDS Game 2 victory over the Dodgers on Sunday wasn't just surprising because of the man who hit it, because it came from a backup catcher only playing due to an injury. The fact he swung from the right side was also unexpected, given just 16 percent of his at-bats this year were right-handed. But that's not why Lobaton's teammates and coaches, or why Lobaton himself was so shocked it left the park.

No, this particular afternoon at Nationals Park had an extra element to it that made what Lobaton pulled off such a remarkable feat. The wind was so strong it howled in the upper concourse. It swirled and turned towards home plate, pushing just about everything hit to left field back where it came from.

"I've never played a game here with the wind blowing in from left that hard. This game is crazy," veteran Jayson Werth, who has been playing games consistently at Nationals Park since it opened in 2008, said.

"I didn't think anybody could hit a home run out of left field today, the way that wind was blowing everything back," manager Dusty Baker said. "I mean, he had to hit it a ton."

Limited by a sore right ankle, which affected the push from his back leg, Lobaton spent much of his week hitting batting practice from the left side. He hadn't taken an in-game at-bat hitting righty in over a month.

[RELATED: Lobaton unlikely hero as Nats win Game 2, draw even in NLDS]

Yet, somehow he got the ball in the air with enough zip to defy what the rest of his team had accepted as a temporary law of nature, that nothing hit that way was going out, no matter how powerful the source.

"When he hit it, there was a bunch of people in the dugout were cussing because we didn't think he could get it out. All kinds of expletives were being thrown around," Werth said.

Then, it kept going.

"I know he hit it good," first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "But every ball that was going to left was getting hit down. [Dodgers left fielder Andrew] Toles, he just kept going back and going back and I was like 'maybe it's got a chance.'"

Lobaton sprinted to first base initially, watching the ball continue to carry. He watched the ball. He kept his eye on Toles.

"I remember the inning before, I was talking to the umpire and I told him 'wow, that wind is really bad for hitters now,'" Lobaton said. "Then, when I hit the ball, I thought I hit it good but I didn't know if it was going to go out. When it went out, I was like 'wow, that's pretty cool!'"

"If Mother Nature wanted to keep it in the yard, I guess she would have," outfielder Bryce Harper said. "But the baseball gods overran her, I guess."

[RELATED: Did Roark intentionally throw at Corey Seager?]

By clearing the fence, Lobaton gave the Nationals their first lead of the NLDS, a 3-2 advantage they would build on in their 5-2 win. It was perfectly-timed lift that flipped the game's momentum in the Nationals' favor.

It also came from a spot that was supposed to be for Wilson Ramos, the team's All-Star catcher that went down in the final week of the regular season with a torn right ACL.

"I love [Ramos] as a friend," Lobaton said. "But it's part of the game… "We don't have Wily. I've got to try to do something for the team. I'm not saying that I'm going to be like Wily and hit a homer and hit .300, but I'm going to do something."

"I'm just so happy for Loby, man," Zimmerman said. "He really deserves it. Wily was obviously having a great year and he didn't get to play that much. He stays ready, he works hard every day. Now he's got an opportunity."

Lobaton followed up a strong outing for fellow catcher Pedro Severino in Game 1. The rookie backstop doubled and scored in the Nats' series-opening loss on Friday. The two are a combined 2-for-7 with a double, homer, three RBI and two runs. They have also worked with the Nationals' pitching staff to hold the Dodgers to just six total runs through two games.

Baker has two catchers who are proving capable as Ramos replacements. But it looks like Lobaton will stay in there for Game 3 on Monday, set for 4:08 p.m. ET in Los Angeles.

"He'll probably be starting against [Kenta] Maeda and catching Gio [Gonzalez] tomorrow," Baker said. "Boy, just keep it coming."

[RELATED: Ramos' first pitch provides special moment for Nats]

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Nationals beat Braves, snap losing skid behind Stephen Strasburg's strong start

Nationals beat Braves, snap losing skid behind Stephen Strasburg's strong start

ATLANTA (AP) -- Stephen Strasburg struck out a season-high 11 and kept up his recent domination of the Atlanta Braves, leading Washington to a 3-2 win Sunday that stopped the Nationals' four-game losing streak.

Strasburg (5-1) allowed five hits in 7 2/3 innings, beating Atlanta for the second time this season and improving to 7-1 in his last nine starts against the Braves. He is 10-8 overall against Atlanta.

He reached double digits in strikeouts for the second time this season after fanning 10 Braves on April 20.

Strasburg faded in the eighth, when Dansby Swanson hit a two-run double. Koda Glover struck out Nick Markakis to end the inning and finished the six-hitter for his third save.

Daniel Murphy hit a second-inning homer off Jaime Garcia (1-3) and the Nationals added two unearned runs in the third.

Matt Adams was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and hit into a ninth-inning double play in his debut for Atlanta, a day after he was acquired from St. Louis. Matt Kemp led off the ninth, and Adams hit a line drive that was caught by Ryan Zimmerman, who stepped on first base.

Garcia allowed three runs -- one earned -- and seven hits in eight innings with no walks.

Washington took a 3-0 lead in the third following fielding errors by Markakis in right and Garcia. Bryce Harper had a run-scoring single.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: 3B Anthony Rendon and C Matt Wieters were given days off from the starting lineup. Rendon entered at third base in the eighth.

Braves: RHP Kris Medlen allowed one hits in six scoreless innings Saturday in his first start for Class A Florida. He missed most of 2016 with shoulder problems after his second Tommy John surgery. "That would be a real nice piece to have," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. Medlen pitched for Kansas City in 2015-16 and his last season with Atlanta was in 2013, when he was 15-12 with a 3.11 ERA.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Following an off day, RHP Jacob Turner (2-2) is expected to start when the Nationals will open a series against Seattle on Tuesday.

Braves: RHP Mike Foltynewicz (2-4) will take a 0-3 career record in three starts against Pittsburgh into Monday night's series opener against the Pirates.

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2017 MLB Power Rankings: As Bryce Harper goes, so do the Nationals

2017 MLB Power Rankings: As Bryce Harper goes, so do the Nationals

A week ago, the Nationals were looking unstoppable. Bryce Harper was hitting walkoff dingers left and right, there were multiple winning streaks, and the bullpen was only sorta bad. 

2017 MLB POWER RANKINGS

A week's worth of games later - against the Braves, Pirates and Phillies, no less - and the Nats don't look nearly as stainless. Harper's hitting under .200 since his Mother's Day walkoff, the team lost 5 of 6, and the bullpen turned back into a pumpkin. Because of that, there's a new team at the top of the Power Rankings this week. Who is it? To the rankings! 

30. MIAMI MARLINS

2017 Record: 15-28
Previous Ranking: 24
Last 10 Games: 2-8
Notable Performance: Dee Gordon (.318/.400/.364 last week)

Stanton hasn't homered in over two weeks, a stretch of 12 games. After going 2-8 over the last 10, including that weird Dodgers game, the Marlins have seen better weeks.  

29. SAN DIEGO PADRES

2017 Record: 16-30
Previous Ranking: 29
Last 10 Games: 3-7
Notable Performance: Brad Hand (.300/.500/.600 last week)

Wil Myers' underwhelming season continues. The outfielder is hitting .150 over the last week, and only .219 over the last month. The Padres best position player is only worth .6 bWAR, and that's 5th-best on the team.

28. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

2017 Record: 15-26
Previous Ranking: 23
Last 10 Games: 2-8
Notable Performance: Daniel Nava (.429/.429/.571 last week)

They ran into Texas at exactly the wrong time. Getting starts that are consistently like Aaron Nola's last one will be huge for his development this season. 

27. KANSAS CITY ROYALS

2017 Record: 18-25
Previous Ranking: 27
Last 10 Games: 6-4
Notable Performance: Lorenzo Cain (.087/.125/.087 last week)

They're starting to play better, but upcomming series with the Yankees and Indians aren't making life any easier for KC. Jason Vargas (?!) has been their most valuable player this year (2.0 bWAR). 

26. ATLANTA BRAVES

2017 Record: 18-23
Previous Ranking: 30
Last 10 Games: 7-3
Notable Performance: Matt Kemp (.375/.423/.708 last week)

Losing Freeman for three months because of some dumb unspoken beef is just a testament to how stupid unwritten baseball rules are. The silver lining to this year, though, is that the Braves are going to fleece some team for Matt Kemp in July. 

SEE THE REST OF THE RANKINGS HERE