WASHINGTON -- The Nationals were sluggers in more ways than one Thursday night at Nationals Park. They pounded the Cubs, 9-2, and had two bench-clearing incidents, one involving Bryce Harper.
At first, it was the Cubs who got off to the good start against right-hander Jordan Zimmermann (10-8). After an inning and a half, Chicago was leading, 2-1, on an RBI triple by Darwin Barney.
But Zimmermann ended up having a quality start. He went on to retire 14 out of the next 16 hitters he faced. He lasted seven innings, allowed the two runs on two hits, struck out nine batters and walked one. It ended speculation that his arm was bothering him. Last Saturday, Zimmermann had his worst outing of the season, allowing eight runs in 3 2/3 innings against the Cardinals.
"I felt I had a pretty good fastball and we stuck with that most of the night," Zimmerman said. "The slider wasn't very good, so we went with the curveball. I was able to locate the fastball and go up and in when I wanted to. I bounced the curveball when I needed to. I got a lot of swings and misses tonight."
It was all Nationals after that. In the bottom of the second inning, with right-hander Justin Germano on the mound, Kurt Suzuki hit a three-run homer to make it a 4-2 game.
Two innings later, Washington added three more runs. Ryan Zimmerman highlighted the scoring with a two-run single to make it a 7-2 game.
Then the game started to turn ugly. The benches and bullpens emptied twice with no punches thrown. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth was at the plate when he swung at a 3-0 pitch from reliever Lendy Castillo.
Bench coach Jaime Quirk was clearly upset that Werth swung at the pitch when the Nationals were up by five runs.
Nationals third-base coach Bo Porter walked near the Cubs' dugout and was yelling back at Quirk. Porter didn't give specifics on what was said between the two parties, but indicated he wouldn't back down from a boxing match. The benches and bullpens emptied, with Quirk getting ejected. Had Porter went into the Cubs' dugout, he, too would have been tossed.
"Quirk was ejected for screaming out obscenities to the third base coach," home-plate umpire Jerry Layne said. "That was the ejection for the coach. The fracas was started because all that stuff that happened that was instigated by Quirk screaming out at Porter. And the obscenities that he screamed out, I just felt was inappropriate and that's what caused everything. The reason he was ejected was he was the cause."
Nationals manager Davey Johnson felt Quirk was frustrated by the way Washington manhandled Chicago during the four-game series. The Nationals outscored the Cubs, 31-9. But Johnson had no intentions of trying to stop his team from scoring. He pointed out that his team had a 9-0 lead against the Braves in July and lost the game, 11-10.
"If they want to quit competing and forfeit, then fine, but we are going to keep competing," Johnson said. "I don't why they are getting on [Werth] swinging 3-0. [Anthony Rizzo hit a home run on a 3-0 pitch] in the first inning. What is difference with the bases loaded in the fifth when we have a five-run lead and with two outs?"
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Harper led off and, on the first pitch, was nearly hit by Castillo. Harper was visibly upset and was thinking about charging the mound, but he was stopped by Cubs catcher Steve Clevenger, Lane and Werth. The benches and bullpens both emptied for the second time.
Clevenger and Manuel Corpas were ejected, as was Gonzalez. Clevenger was seen pushing Michael Morse.
"Well you know, the ball got away from Lendy, you know, the benches cleared," Clevenger said. "We weren't trying to throw at him intentionally. That's just the way the game's played. I was in the middle, you know, where everybody was trying to break everybody up. That's basically what I was trying to do, just break everything up."
Johnson saw things differently.
"That's again frustration from a team that is having a rough year," Johnson said. "I was proud of my guys for not really overreacting. We are in a pennant race. We have to be mild citizens. We don't start things, but we are not going to back down from anything.
After order was restored, the Nationals continued to pound the Cubs. In the bottom of the sixth inning with Jeff Beliveau on the mound, Adam LaRoche hit a two-run homer to make it a seven-run game.
"It was a great series. It's nice to see a bunch of runs scored on our end," LaRoche said. "Hopefully, we'll keep that going. As far as [the scuffles] goes, I've been on both sides of that. When you are losing and nothing is going your way, it's real easy to snap. You are about ready to lose it anyway. One little thing sends you over the top. I don't know exactly what happened, but I don't think there are any hard feelings. It's over with."
The Nationals swept the four-game series and improved their record to 85-52, remaining 7 1/2 games in front of the Braves. The magic number for Washington to win the National League East is 18.
"I've gone up against some good lineups this year," Germano said. "I had the Yankees atop my list as the best lineup in the league, but I think they gave them a run for their money. They've got a lot of right-handed power and they don't miss mistakes."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.