WASHINGTON (AP) — During a nerve-racking season in which half their games were decided by one run, the Washington Nationals enjoyed a rare blowout that manager Davey Johnson begrudgingly acknowledged was “a laugher.”
Gio Gonzalez allowed one run over seven innings and the Nationals hit a season-high three home runs in a 7-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday.
“We haven’t won one of those in a while,” Johnson said. “It’s not quite what I call a laugher. That’s a smiler. We were hanging around, then we got a lead and added to it. It got to be a laugher.”
The first-place Nationals had played 13 one-run games, including three in a row, coming into Saturday’s game against the depleted Phillies, who are without injured sluggers Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. After falling behind 1-0, Washington used a four-run fifth inning to take control.
Former Phillies star Jayson Werth hit a three-run drive, Chad Tracy connected with a man on and Ian Desmond had a solo shot for the Nationals, who have won seven straight over Philadelphia dating to last year. By taking the first two games of the three-game set, Washington improved to 8-1 in series play this season.
The seven runs matched a season high for the Nationals, who have won four straight, and the 15 hits were their most in a game this year.
“It was a good day,” Desmond said. “It was a nice day to go out and hit some balls on the barrel. If we play another one-run game tomorrow, so be it. We’re just trying to collect wins.”
Rick Ankiel had three hits in a second consecutive game, and Tracy and Steve Lombardozzi also had three hits apiece for Washington. Rookie Bryce Harper went 0 for 4 with a walk, dropping his batting average 55 points to .261.
Gonzalez (3-1) gave up four hits, struck out seven and walked one. Acquired last December in a trade with Oakland, the left-hander has a 1.72 ERA in six starts this season and has yielded only three runs over the last 27 innings.
“Outstanding effort against a good-hitting club,” Johnson said. “He made it look easy.”
Gonzalez also played a key role at the plate, sparking the pivotal fifth inning with his second career hit, a leadoff double that set the tone for the afternoon and preceded Werth’s third homer of the season.
“It was fun to see these guys swing the bat,” Gonzalez said. “You could see there was life in our dugout. All I was trying to do is keep us in the game and let our hitters go out and do their job.”
Philadelphia starter Vance Worley (2-2) gave up five runs and 11 hits in six innings. The right-hander was 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA in his previous three starts, and in this one he kept the Nationals at bay through four innings. But his inability to retire Gonzalez in the fifth proved to be his undoing.
“When he started the game I thought he had good stuff. Then he started making mistakes,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “He had trouble getting Gonzalez out.”
Carlos Ruiz drove in the lone run for the Phillies, who have lost six straight against left-handed starters and now trail the Nationals by 5 1/2 games in the NL East.
“They play like they have a chip on their shoulder,” Philadelphia’s Hunter Pence said.
“They got good starting pitching and guys that can hit,” Manuel said. “That’s why they are in first place.”
Philadelphia took a 1-0 lead in the fourth. Shane Victorino hit a leadoff double, advanced on a fly ball and scored on a sacrifice fly by Ruiz, his team-high 19th RBI.
In the bottom half, Tracy doubled with one out and advanced on a two-out infield single before Wilson Ramos bounced out. It was the fourth straight inning that Washington got a runner in scoring position before Worley worked out of the trouble.
The Nationals broke the trend in a momentum-turning fifth that began when Gonzalez lined a 3-2 pitch into the gap in right-center. Prior to the hit, the pitcher was 1 for 17 in his career at the plate.
“It bothered me, but he had a good at-bat,” Worley said.
With runners at the corners and one out, Harper hit a fly ball to left that was too short for Gonzalez to tag up. Two pitches later, however, Werth ripped a 1-0 pitch over the left-field wall into the Washington bullpen.
“He beat me. All there is to that,” Worley said.
Tracy and Danny Espinoza followed with singles and Ankiel hit a run-scoring double, but Tracy was thrown out at the plate on the back end of the play.
Desmond homered in the sixth to make it 5-1 and Tracy hit his second of the season in the seventh.
NOTES: Nationals 3B Ryan Zimmerman (shoulder) expects to be activated from the disabled list on Tuesday. ... The Phillies send Cole Hamels (3-1) to the mound Sunday night in the series finale. Jordan Zimmermann (1-2) will pitch for Washington. ... The three HRs were tied for the most yielded in a game by Philadelphia this season.