ANAHEIM -- When the power is out, a candle barely does the job. Tied for last in baseball with five home runs on the young season, the Nationals showed -- at least on Monday, anyway -- that going station-to-station can be a path to victory. Chop at a tree enough and it finally falls.
The Nationals had 12 singles among their 14 hits against the Angels, and they not only earned a 6-4 victory in the opener of a three-game series, they rallied to do it under interim manager Tim Bogar. Manager Dave Martinez was at Angel Stadium on Monday but remained in his office with an illness, receiving multiple bags of intravenous fluids.
“That’s Nats offense right there,” said Bogar, who sounded optimistic Martinez would be able to be on the bench for Tuesday’s game. “We paper cut you to death a little bit. But the bottom line is the guys battled from top to bottom, one through nine.”
Put a man on, move him over and drive him in. Just when it seemed like the base-to-base-to-base strategy was for a bygone era, the Nationals are embracing small ball as well as any team in the game.
Those dozen singles Monday added to the Nationals' Major League-best tally of 80 on the young season. The club entered the day fourth in baseball and second in the National League.
The Nationals also are seventh in baseball with a .340 on-base percentage and fifth in the NL.
“That’s how we play,” Bogar said. “We play hard, we have to and the guys know it.”
Monday’s three-run fourth inning to tie the game 4-4 included four singles, with one coming on a bunt from Alex Call and another of the infield variety from Lane Thomas.
They used aggressive baserunning to craft an insurance run in the seventh inning, Dominic Smith scoring from second while Victor Robles was beating out a potential double-play ground ball to second base.
“I’ve seen it happen on the defensive side … something that happened to me personally so I knew that it was going to be a tough play,” Smith said. “Just doing everything I can to create extra runs. They’re so focused on turning the double play, you can kind of sneak in and get around. It felt like a momentum-changing play.”
The true momentum swing happened much earlier, with starter Patrick Corbin giving up four runs through three innings to put the Nationals behind, 4-1. After they tied it with their small-ball fourth inning, Nationals pitching started to take over.
Corbin settled in, using four pitches to get through the bottom of the fifth inning with third baseman Jeimer Candelario making a standout play on a grounder by Brandon Drury. The bullpen took over from there, with Mason Thompson, Hunter Harvey, Carl Edwards Jr. and Kyle Finnegan (second save) not giving up a hit over the final four innings.
In fact, going back to the end of Corbin’s outing, Nationals pitchers didn’t give up a hit over the final six innings, while the five pitchers held Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani to a combined 0-for-8 with five strikeouts. Finnegan ended the game by striking out Trout.
Finnegan’s perfect ninth inning was his third consecutive scoreless outing since he was roughed up by the Rays on April 4 when he gave up five runs.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t need that right there a little bit,” Finnegan said. “So it’s a big confidence boost. Winning big league games is just great for the morale and we’re happy to come out with the win and I feel great with where I’m at.”
Corbin (1-2) gave up four runs on seven hits over his five innings, but he is only looking back as far as the final two innings when the Angels didn’t get a hit.
“I mean, we’re gonna have to do the little things to win a lot of games, and when you have the defense behind you like we did today, the relievers came in and did their job, we put up enough runs and put the bat on the ball,” Corbin said. “This is what it takes. We’re capable of doing it, we just have to be consistent and come in [each] day and try to do that.”