WASHINGTON (AP)—The Washington Nationals’ new owners couldn’t have scripted it any better.
With the fans waving their red “rally towels,” Tony Armas Jr. pitched seven strong innings, Alfonso Soriano and Ryan Church homered, and the Nationals beat the Chicago Cubs 7-1 Sunday to complete their first home sweep in more than a year.
A group led by local real estate developer Ted Lerner finished paperwork on the $450 million purchase of the Nationals from Major League Baseball on Friday night, during the opener of a three-game set billed as a “Grand Re-Opening Weekend,” featuring improvements to 45-year-old RFK Stadium.
An average of 34,771 fans were at the three games—8,000 more than what Washington was drawing this season—and the Nationals treated them to seven runs in each game of the series, with three straight quality outings from starters.
“It never hurts to have a lot of fans out here in the stands, rooting for you, behind you. It makes you feel good, no doubt about that,” manager Frank Robinson said. “But you still have to go out and perform. We did that today. It kind of gets you up before the game starts, and we carried it into the game.”
So what if the opponent was the Cubs, at 37-60 one of only two NL clubs with a worse record than Washington?
Perhaps the Nationals finally have a bit of positive momentum.
“I guess you could call it ‘Mr. M.’ He showed up briefly,” Robinson said. “He doesn’t stay here very long. We hope he’ll be back.”
That last phrase might also be applied to Soriano, who said after the game he doesn’t think he’ll sign a new deal with Washington before the July 31 trading deadline. He spoke with incoming team president Stan Kasten on Thursday, but they didn’t discuss contract details.
“I’m waiting to see what happens to me,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going on.”
Neither do some other Nationals players who could potentially be dealt, including Armas (7-5), who allowed only three hits and put together five 1-2-3 innings. The right-hander gave up a run, struck out three and didn’t walk a batter in a reversal from his previous four outings, when he was 0-2 with a 9.72 ERA.
“His pitch count stayed down because he was aggressive,” catcher Brian Schneider said. “He was going after it and letting guys put the ball in play.”
Armas retired Chicago’s first eight batters until Cubs starter Carlos Marmol (3-4) singled up the middle. Juan Pierre followed with a double, but Marmol held at third, and Neifi Perez grounded out to end the threat.
Marmol bruised his pitching hand during that at-bat, and he stayed in. He already had allowed Felipe Lopez’s two-run single in the third, scoring Schneider (who walked) and Soriano (who doubled).
“His hand was swollen and he couldn’t grip his fastball,” manager Dusty Baker said.
After Marmol walked Marlon Anderson leading off the fourth, Church drove a 91 mph pitch into the upper deck for his fifth homer of the year, making it 4-0.
“The walks all led up to big innings for them,” Cubs catcher Michael Barrett said. “They did a nice job of hitting when it mattered most.”
Two outs later, Soriano also drove a 91 mph offering out for his 31st homer. That gave him six hits in the past two games, all for extra bases: a homer, a triple and four doubles.
Soriano hit shots to the warning track in the first and sixth innings.
“He could have very easily hit three” homers, Robinson said.
Soriano’s homered in five consecutive series—but who knows how much longer he’ll be helping the Nationals.
“We love Alfonso, we love what he does—lots of people do. Let’s face it: He’s a potential MVP candidate. It goes without saying that he’s a superior player,” Kasten said. “But, you know, our No. 1 mission is getting to be the best team we can as soon as possible.”
Nationals 3B Ryan Zimmerman dove to his right to stab Barrett’s liner, turning a probable extra-base hit into an out in the second. … Cubs LHP Sean Marshall went on the 15-day DL a day after leaving his start with a strained ribcage muscle. RHPs David Aardsma and Michael Wuertz were recalled from Triple-A Iowa; both pitched Sunday. … Lee went 0-for-4 and made an error. … The Nationals’ last sweep of a home series came June 28-30, 2005, against Pittsburgh.