WASHINGTON -- One of the biggest developments of this Nationals' season has been the emergence of Michael A. Taylor, finally putting the tools he has shown off in spurts together in extended playing time.
All of those tools were on display during the Nats' 11-10 victory Friday night against the Phillies, which reduced the club's magic number to three. After the Dodgers' 5-4 loss to the Rockies on Friday night, the Nats sit just 5 1/2 games behind Los Angeles in the race for the best record in the National League.
Taylor's spectacular performance almost single-handedly got the job done, as he hit an inside-the-park grand slam as part of a four-hit, five-RBI night (each career highs) that included a stolen base and an outfield assist.
It was a sample of all the skills the Nationals have seen in Taylor the past few years. And after being inserted into the lineup as the starting center fielder after Adam Eaton tore his ACL in April, Taylor has seized the opportunity and run with it. He is batting .270/.318/.486 with a career-high 15 home runs and 14 stolen bases combined with stellar defense in center field that had him worth 2.3 Wins Above Replacement, according to Fangraphs, at the start of the day Friday.
"He's impacting the game both defensively and offensively," right-hander Max Scherzer said. "He's taking bases. He's playing outstanding, Gold Glove center-field defense for us. Robbing home runs, making diving catches. He's doing everything he can to help us win ballgames.
"And obviously what he's doing at the plate, he's keeping his swing short. His approach is simple. And you're seeing the product of that. He's hitting the ball well, and he's hitting the ball with authority. He's definitely a threat for us, and definitely been a huge piece for us."
Taylor's career night began when he turned a misplay in center field in the third inning into an inside-the-park grand slam off right-hander Jake Thompson. Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera charged in on Taylor's line drive with the bases loaded, only to have the ball sail over his outstretched glove. Herrera had a catch probability of 87 percent on the play, according to Statcast™.
"Soon as it went over his head, I was thinking four right there," Taylor said.
As the ball rolled to the wall, Taylor raced around the bases. determined to keep going until someone stopped him. Third-base coach Bobby Henley waved him around third and he slid home safely ahead of the relay throw in 15.04 seconds, the second-fastest time on an inside-the-park home run this season.
This was also just the second inside-the-park grand slam in franchise history and the first since Bombo Rivero hit one for the Expos on June 26, 1976. It's the first inside-the-park grand slam in the Majors since Sept. 25, 2015, when Phillies outfielder Aaron Altherr hit one off then-Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann. Coincidentally, Altherr rounded the bases on a ball misplayed by Taylor in center field.
"Feels better to be on this side of it," Taylor said with a smile.
Taylor was not done after his rare feat, adding an outfield assist in the seventh inning when Nick Williams tried to score on a single from Hyun Soo Kim. Instead, Taylor delivered a 96.3-mph strike from 243 feet deep into center field to the plate to nab Kim for his eighth outfield assist of the year, which is tied for fourth in the National League.
"He had a great night," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "We're gonna need more of those kind of nights from Michael. He's feeling good about himself. We're feeling good about him.
"This is what we want him to do. We're not really surprised because the ability's there. It's different if the ability's not really there, you should be surprised, but the ability's always been there."