Davey Johnson took his customary seat in the interview room at Nationals Park Tuesday night and let out a sigh.

"It's never easy," the 70-year-old manager said, "is it?"

Well, no. The Nationals' 7-5 victory over the Diamondbacks should never have been that close, with the tying run standing on first base in the ninth inning and the home club coming this close to blowing an early 6-run lead.

But ignore, for a moment, the near-collapse late and focus instead of the events of the game's first five innings, in particular the bottom of the third, when a typically moribund Nationals lineup exploded for five runs to match its most-productive offensive frame of the season. Denard Span singled to drive in a run. Jayson Werth singled to drive in a run. And Adam LaRoche produced the biggest blast: a three-run homer to complete the huge inning.

That sudden burst of lumber allowed the Nationals to open up a big lead and allowed this admittedly tight ballclub to play loose for a change, knowing the game wasn't going to completely turn around on one swing.

"To get up early like that, that's really how our offense should operate," said Werth, who reached base four times despite a sore groin that clearly hampered him in the field and on the bases. "We haven't been doing it, but we have a potent offense. We need to rally and score runs like that more often. ... If we're going to be a championship club, that's something that's going to have to be night-in and night-out."

That it happened on this night despite a lineup missing Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos and with a banged-up Werth making do, was fairly remarkable.

That it happened on the same night Gio Gonzalez pitched was downright stunning.

The Nationals haven't consistently scored runs for any of their starters this season, but they really haven't scored them for Gonzalez, who despite a 2.18 ERA over his previous eight outings had precisely zero wins to show for it. On this night, he finally was rewarded for his efforts thanks to the early offensive outburst.

"You don't want to be the guy left out in trying to do something right," Gonzalez said. "It's nice to see these guys swinging the bat and having some fun."

The left-hander has pitched better games during this recent stretch, but he pitched well enough to earn the win this time, carrying a shutout into the sixth before beginning to wilt on an oppressive, 90-degree night in the District.

Johnson thought about removing his starter at that point, even though he'd only thrown 91 pitches. But the manager decided to let Gonzalez re-take the mound for the seventh, only to make the stroll to the mound after only two batters and signal for his bullpen.

"After the rough inning before, I didn't want to go too far with him," Johnson said. "The bullpen's usually been pretty good, but here they're not used to having a big lead."