The 2018 season at the trade deadline hadn’t gone as Dave Martinez had hoped in his first year managing the Nationals. His team, the preseason favorite to repeat as N.L. East champions, were in third place, a game under .500, on July 31.
Other than dumping reliever Brandon Kintzler’s salary on the Cubs, General Manager Mike Rizzo stood pat, expressing confidence that the roster he had could still challenge for a playoff spot. But all was not well with the Nats. Reports of clubhouse dysfunction – tied to Kintzler but vehemently denied by Martinez and Rizzo, were swirling.
“We believe in the squad we have,” Rizzo said that afternoon. “The 25 guys in that clubhouse, we felt all along have a chance to win this division.”
Before the game, rising star shortstop Trea Turner had to sit before reporters to apologize for homophobic social media posts he had made several years before. His tears and regret seemed genuine to the media questioning him. In any case, the furor died down and clearly had no effect on Turner or his teammates this night at Nationals Park.
The best way to get out of a funk is to score a bunch of runs and pitch well. Against seven Mets pitchers – the last of them veteran shortstop Jose Reyes – the Nationals scored a team record 25 runs, hit five homers and dealt the Mets their most lopsided defeat ever, 25-4. In the midst of a disappointing season, Tanner Roark yielded only a seventh-inning solo homer to New York, at a time when the score was 19-0. The lone bright spot for the Mets: The homer was rookie Jeff McNeil’s first.
“Everything felt good.” Roarke said after the game. “I just felt compact, and then over the rubber, my head back and everything, and just explosive.”
Roark had helped ignite the rout with a bases-clearing double in the first inning, when the Nats roughed up Mets starter Steven Matz. He didn’t last the inning, which saw the Nats score seven times on eight hits. When he took the mound, Matz had yet to yield an earned run in 20 innings at National Park.
Turner went 4-for-6, stealing second and third in the first inning. Every Nationals starter had a hit in the first two innings, the first team to do that since 2011.
From then on, team records began to fall. The 26 hits set a new Nationals mark. Three or more runs scored in each inning from the first through the sixth matched a major league record. The Nats became the first team with the pitcher batting to have all nine starters score multiple runs since the New York Yankees on May 24, 1936. The 25 runs were the most in a game without a designated hitter since the Cubs put up 26 in Colorado’s thin air on August 18, 1995.
Ryan Zimmerman’s first inning single drove in a run and made him the all-time franchise hits leader, passing Montreal’s Tim Wallach. Then he homered in the fourth with a man on.
“I think any team needs games like that,” Zimmerman told reporters. “Those are fun games to be a part of.” The crowd of 35,029 gave the longtime Face of the Franchise a standing ovation and a curtain call when the scoreboard flashed his accomplishment.
Mets manager Mickey Callaway brought in Jose Reyes to pitch in the bottom of the eighth, the first time the veteran shortstop had ever done so. With Washington up, 19-1, he retired Zimmerman, his first batter, on a long fly ball. Six runs later, Zimmerman came up again. This time Reyes hit him on the leg with a slow curve ball. Zimmerman faked charging the mound as both men laughed. Indeed, as SABR’s Steven C. Weiner wrote in his essay in 2020’s Baseball’s Biggest Blowout Games: “It was a laugher…. Juan Soto ended the inning by flying out … on Reyes’ 48th pitch… and the Nationals led, 25-1.”
Veteran reliever Shawn Kelley wouldn’t join in the fun. Possibly miffed at having to pitch in such a blowout, Kelley slammed his glove on the mound after yielding a three-run homer in the ninth. Rizzo designated Kelley for assignment the next day and eventually traded him to Milwaukee.
Daniel Murphy continued to pound his former team. He homered twice, ending the night 3-for-4 with six RBIs. His matter-of-fact post-game comments: “We played well tonight. We’ll do the same again tomorrow,”
Indeed, the Nats beat Noah Syndergaard and the Mets, 5-3, the next night. But hope of building on the two wins was not to be.
On August 21, Rizzo essentially threw in the towel, sending Murphy to the Cubs in a waiver deal. The Nationals finished the season second in the East, a disappointing 82-80, their worst record since 2011.
For one night, however, they were world beaters.
“It’s been an emotional day,” Martinez said. “And it was a good way to end it.”
Another account of this game, by Steven C. Weiner, appears on page 353 in Baseball’s Biggest Blowout Games, edited by Bill Nowlin, a SABR book published in 2020.