A smile crept across Adam LaRoche’s face when he rounded the bases after his career-best 33rd homer gave him an even 100 RBIs.
After a high-5 from manager Davey Johnson and a hug from Jayson Werth, LaRoche acknowledged the crowd’s ovation with a tip of his red batting helmet during Washington’s 4-2 triumph over the Phillies, 24 hours after the Nationals secured the National League East title.
”Feels great,” LaRoche asserted, ”to have a little party 2 nights in a row.”
This one was more muted, naturally, than all of the alcohol-spraying and mirth-making of Monday. Asked how he’ll mark his individual achievement, LaRoche answered: ”I have no idea. I’m still recovering from yesterday. I should have to relax tonight.”
As he spoke, the TVs in the Nationals Park home clubhouse were tuned to the game between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox – not Cincinnati’s 3-1 victory over the Cardinals, which was relevant to Washington’s postseason plans. The Nationals and Reds are tied for the best record in the majors (97-64) heading into Wednesday’s regular-season finales, with the top seed in the National League playoffs on the line, something the Nationals insist they aren’t all that about.
Washington Nationals can clinch home-field advantage throughout the postseason with a victory in Game 162 or a loss by the Reds.
”I don’t know how it’s that important,” Johnson said. ”You’ve got to beat the teams you play.”
On an evening when a thick mist was hanging over the stadium, Johnson decided most of his main guys deserved a rest. Indeed, LaRoche was Washington’s only everyday player who stayed in for more than 5 innings – and he led off the 6th by driving the second pitch thrown by reliever Josh Lindblom (3-5) into the home bullpen in right field. Several Washington Nationals relievers raised their fists as the ball cleared the wall. Las Vegas odds
Last season was rough as could be for LaRoche. Trying to play in spite of a torn labrum in his left shoulder, he hit .172 with 3 homers in 43 games, and then eventually agreed to undergo surgery.
What a turnabout: In 2012, LaRoche tied his career-best RBI total and joined Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn – who each did it twice – as the only Nationals players to reach 100 in that category. He heard some ”MVP!” chants from fans in the 7th inning.
”It’s unfortunate he was hurt last year, for really the 1st time in his career. But he is a terrific player and a terrific colleague, and I am so happy for him,” GM Mike Rizzo said. ”Now we are looking for him to become hot and carry us like he probably did quite often in the 1st half.”
LaRoche and center fielder Bryce Harper were the only regulars in Johnson’s starting lineup. He opted to sit 3rd baseman Zimmerman, right fielder Werth, left fielder Michael Morse, shortstop Ian Desmond, second baseman Danny Espinosa and catcher Kurt Suzuki.
Instead, the lineup included players such as Mark DeRosa, making his first start at shortstop since 2006 for Texas.