The post-players-only meeting era of Nationals baseball got off to a rough start Thursday evening. The Nationals sent the “violently ill” Jeremy Hellickson to the rubber against the Miami Marlins, and watched as their sallow-faced starter was pounded for seven runs in the first two innings, by the third-worst offense in baseball. Before Bryce “Actually Playing Poorly And Losing Is Good And Fun” Harper and his fellow batters could showcase the benefits of their closed-door meeting, they’d already seemingly been murdered by their own gut-sick pitcher.
Somehow things got worse from there: Hellickson, who’d thrown 63 pitches through three brutal innings, was sent to the plate to hit for himself with two down in the bottom of the third—he struck out, natch—and then took the mound for more punishment in the fourth, allowing another pair of runs and leaving the Nationals in a nine-run hole before he was finally, mercifully shelved. It was hard, in realtime, not to read Davey Martinez’s choice to stick with Hellickson as a surrender.
Probably it would be silly to chalk what happened from there up to the motivational oomph of getting shouted at by Max Scherzer, but anyway it was pretty bananas. The Nationals went into the fifth inning down 9–1 following a Trea Turner solo dinger; over the next three innings they banged out 10 hits, a sacrifice, and seven walks, and put a whopping 13 runs on the board to surge into the lead. The highlight of the rally was Turner’s first career grand slam, a go-ahead shot with two down in the bottom of the sixth inning:
Turner was the star of the show for the Nats. The grand slam got him to six RBI in the game; he added another two an inning later with a two-out single to left to finish with a career-high eight runs batted in. Eight RBI also ties the all-time record for runs batted in by a leadoff man, per Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post. Because the Nats are still largely crud, they surrendered another three runs in the top of the eighth inning, but held on for a 14-12 win, in the process completing the largest come-from-behind win in franchise history.
The comeback and the long-overdue offensive explosion will leave everyone with a good feeling, possibly even enough to paper over the fact that the Nationals still gave up 12 runs to the Marlins, and the core of their lineup—Harper, Anthony Rendon, and Daniel Murphy—combined to go 0-for-11 on the night. Harper is now hitting a putrid, inexcusable .213 on the season. The Nationals are a long, long way from fixed, but the first four innings Thursday night suggested they might’ve come out of their players-only meeting more doomed than ever, and if nothing else the comeback provided an opportunity for a lot of cathartic fist-pumping and helmet-slapping. It’s only one win, yes. The Nationals snatched that one win out of the bleakest vortex of humiliation in the universe, and that’s got to count for something.