Rare chance for Nats to breathe easy

Rare chance for Nats to breathe easy
April 26, 2012, 12:48 pm
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You'll have to forgive just about everyone who was inside the Nationals dugout late during last night's game showing off their pearly whites. They certainly haven't had many opportunities this season to smile wide while games were still underway.

Of their 13 previous victories, six had come by just one run, two had come by two runs, three had come by three runs and two had come by four runs.

Thus, a 7-2 dismantling of the Padres was welcome relief for a Nationals club that to date had experienced nothing but tense baseball through the season's first three weeks.

They needed this one, they really did. That may sound strange when you consider this is a 14-4 ballclub we're talking about, owners of the NL's best record. But all those tense, low-scoring, down-to-the-wire wins take their toll, both physically and mentally.

Just about every at-bat taken and every pitch thrown by a member of the Nationals this season has come in high-leverage situations. Sure, it's great practice for a young team that aspires to play in the highest of leverage games this fall. But you need a laugher every once in a while to break things up and give yourself a chance to breathe easy.

So Davey Johnson could thank Jordan Zimmermann (six innings of one-run ball), Adam LaRoche (3-for-4, RBI), Wilson Ramos (2-for-5, two RBI) and Tom Gorzelanny (the rare, three-inning save) for giving his blood pressure a much-needed night off.

And thus, a season that has already included some remarkable feats from a club that isn't used to accomplishing such things, added a couple new items to the checklist.

-- The Nationals have now played six series, and they've won all six.

-- Until Zimmermann surrendered a solo homer to Orlando Hudson in the fifth, the starting rotation had completed 26 consecutive scoreless innings (a new Nationals record).

-- At 14-4, they've now matched the best 18-game start to any season in Washington baseball history. The only other club in 79 years of D.C. baseball to open 14-4? The 1932 Senators, who wound up 93-61 (14 games behind the Yankees in the AL).

(For the record, that 1932 team lost its 19th game. Thus a victory in tonight's series finale at Petco Park would ensure the first-ever 15-4 record in the long -- and mostly sad -- annals of Washington baseball.)

Yes, we're entering uncharted waters here, folks. The Nationals are 10 games over .500 for the first time since July 26, 2005, and there doesn't appear to be any end in sight.

Strange times indeed. And, at least for one night, reason to sit back and smile for a change.