WASHINGTON -- Nothing has come easy for the 2019 Washington Nationals.
That includes simple tasks like ... winning a series. On Thursday, the Nationals eked out a 7-6 victory over the visiting New York Mets, giving them their first series win in a month.
Since taking two of three from the as-expected lowly Giants in mid-April, the almost-as-lowly-but-surprisingly-so Nats hadn't come out on top in seven consecutive series. Although there's little to no shame in getting the business end of meetings with teams like the Brewers, Cardinals and Phillies -- all of whom victimized Washington recently -- there's all kinds of shame in getting bested by the Marlins.
Yes, those Marlins.
When the Nats kicked off their seven-series skid by dropping two of three in Miami, they earned the dubious distinction of becoming the only team to lose a series to the futile Fish this season. And they did so despite the fact that both Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg -- two of the National League's premier pitchers -- took the hill during that set.
Nearly a month later, the exact opposite happened: They bested the Mets during a series in which neither Scherzer nor Strasburg pitched. But outfielder Gerardo Parra did.
Actually, that's a lie -- Parra didn't pitch. But given the extent of his contributions against the Mets, it was as if he did. In the finale against New York on Thursday, Parra reached base all four times he batted, going 3-for-3 with a home run, a double and a walk, and driving in three runs. He also started at first base, a position the 32-year-old outfielder had played only a couple dozen times in his career prior to signing with Nationals last week. Oh, and he stole a base too.
"He brings fire, he brings that energy," catcher Kurt Suzuki said of his new teammate, who was released by San Francisco after hitting .198 over the first month of the season. In his second game with Washington, Parra hit a grand slam against the Dodgers and has now driven in more runs in five games with his new team than he did in 30 games with his old one. "He can spark the club a little bit and he's done it before," Suzuki said. "He's playing really well for us and we're really excited to have him on our team."
It's not like the Nationals had much of a choice. With starter Ryan Zimmerman on the shelf (plantar fasciitis) and backup Matt Adams (shoulder) keeping him company, and with utility man Howie Kendrick dealing with neck stiffness, Washington needed somebody to play first base. Anybody. Even if that body is (generously) listed at only 5-foot-11 and isn't used to playing there.
"It's not easy," Parra said of manning the cold corner. "People think first base is easy. I do my best."
So far, Parra's best hasn't exactly been Gold Glove material. In the Mets series, there were multiple instances where batters reached base thanks to less-than-perfect throws that a more experienced first baseman might have handled with relative ease. To his credit, though, Parra has yet to be charged with an error since joining Washington.
He's not the only one -- the entire Nationals team went errorless against New York, just like it did during its previous four-game set against the Dodgers. Prior to that, the Nats hadn't gone a single series without committing a miscue. Although errors aren't the defensive measuring stick they used to be, the fact that Washington has gone seven games without flubbing is a big deal for a deeply disappointing club that spent the first quarter of the season looking sloppy and sleepwalkerish.
"They played really well the last few days," said manager Dave Martinez, whose club was expected to contend for the NL East title but is currently seven games under .500, even with the recent uptick. "That's what we've talked about, playing clean baseball."
For Washington, playing clean baseball is a whole lot easier now that third baseman Anthony Rendon is back on the field. When Rendon -- one of the game's most complete but underrated players -- went down with an elbow contusion April 20, the Nats were hovering right around .500. They proceeded to lose 10 of their next 15 games. His return has been a stabilizing force, both in the field and at the plate. Getting Trea Turner back -- the speedy shortstop broke his finger in early April and could make his return as soon as this weekend -- will be a huge boost, too.
But perhaps the best news of all, at least in the near term, is that the Nationals are riding a two-game winning streak. (Hey, don't laugh: If they win one more, it'll be their first three-game streak of the season, which would leave Miami as the only team that hasn't won three straight.) With Scherzer and Strasburg slated to pitch the next two days, the possibilities suddenly seem limitless for Washington. Or at least as limitless as they can seem for a club that has the second-worst record in the NL and is about to throw down with a red-hot Cubs squad that has the second-best record.
"Feels pretty good," Martinez said when asked what it was like to finally win a series.
So what if it almost didn't happen. So what if closer Sean Doolittle almost coughed up a three-run lead in the ninth inning, when he fanned Keon Broxton with the bases loaded to seal the deal. The bottom line is that, drama or no drama, the deal was ultimately sealed. These days in D.C., that's cause for celebration.
Said Martinez: "I'm going to have a glass of wine."