SAN DIEGO -- A frustrating afternoon was developing for Nationals batters on Sunday at Petco Park. On a “bullpen day” for the Padres, three pitchers had limited the Nats to one unearned run through the first seven innings.
The Nationals took out their frustrations on pitcher No. 4.
They crushed four straight home runs in a span of seven pitches off right-hander Craig Stammen in the top of the eighth inning to surge to a 5-2 victory, which salvaged a split of the four-game series. It was the ninth time in Major League history a team hit back-to-back-to-back-to-back homers.
“I liked the first one, for sure. It put us ahead,” Washington manager Dave Martinez said. “Then it was wow, wow and wow!”
The game was tied 1-1 with one out in the eighth when Martinez pulled starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg in favor of pinch-hitter Howie Kendrick. Any misgivings about taking the ball away from Strasburg were forgotten amid the thunder of 1,639 feet worth of homers -- four blasts of at least 391 feet.
• Kendrick smashed an 82.6-mph knuckle-curve to center field on a 2-2 count. The drive went 421 feet and came off his bat at 105 mph.
• Trea Turner one-upped Kendrick with a 425-foot shot to center, 105.2 mph off the bat. He connected on a 93.8-mph sinker on a 1-0 count.
• Adam Eaton powered a 94.6-mph sinker 402 feet to center on a 1-0 count, 99.9 mph off the bat.
• Anthony Rendon hit a 391-footer to right-center on a 93.1-mph sinker on an 0-1 count. He matched Eaton’s exit velocity at 99.9 mph.
And the reactions
• Kendrick: “Nobody expected four in a row, but we’ll take it. We take anything we can get, as long as we get a 'W.' I really haven’t had much success against Stammen at all. I was fortunate to get the bat on the ball when he made a mistake, and we capitalized on it.”
• Turner: “It was exciting. I think we were pretty fired up when Howie hit his because that gave us the lead. It doesn’t happen very often.”
• Eaton: “If you would say there’d be four home runs, I’d never be in the mix there anywhere -- first one, last one, in the middle. So I’m happy that I was in there. Pretty cool experience. It’s a contagious thing. You can’t really put your finger on it. It just happens.”
• Rendon: “You don’t want to be the one who doesn’t hit one. It was pretty crazy. It doesn’t happen a lot. You’re just glad you’re on this side and not the other side.”
Rendon doesn’t know the half of it. Stammen’s description of what it is like to be on the wrong side of MLB history is simply excruciating.
“You want to dig a hole, crawl behind the mound and go in that hole and never return -- every time you give up a home run,” Stammen said. “To give up four in a row, just times that by four. It doesn't feel good. But it's your job to go out there and make pitches. That's what I was trying to do. I didn't do it today.”
The homer barrage ended when cleanup batter Juan Soto struck out on three pitches. Stammen never made it out of the inning, getting the hook from Padres manager Andy Green after Matt Adams hit a hard single with two outs.
The Nats are the only team to register four straight homers on more than one occasion. They actually were the last team to accomplish it -- on July 17, 2017, when Brian Goodwin, Wilmer Difo, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman went deep against the Brewers.
Washington ranks eighth in the National League in runs (310) and ninth in homers (85), but it is on the upswing. Since May 24, the Nationals are 11-4 and have hit 22 home runs while averaging 6.1 runs per game. Luis Perdomo, Robbie Erlin and Trey Wingenter held the Nats down for seven innings Sunday, but Turner was convinced a breakthrough was coming.
“You’re getting a fresh pitcher every time, but they’re essentially throwing nine innings of relief,” Turner said. “That’s going to catch up with them if we keep putting pressure on them, and keep working counts and making things tough on them.
“I think that’s what this lineup does. That’s why it’s hard to face us, because we can do everything. Today was no different. It just took us a little longer to do it.”
Strasburg (7-3) had another strong start in his hometown. The right-hander allowed one run, six hits and no walks with six strikeouts in seven innings to improve to 4-1 in five career starts at Petco Park. But his favorite part of the game was after he became a spectator.
“That was great to watch, obviously, a lot of fun,” he said.