Photo by Rachel Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
A big crowd was treated to a big win from the home team.
The Nationals, though, have every reason to feel comfortable with Ian Desmond in that situation right now. Forget that he's a rookie. Forget that he's had his ups and downs throughout the season's first two months. Right now, there's no one the club would rather have at the plate in key spots than the 24-year-old.
Even when he nearly botches his opportunity.
When Desmond stood outside the batter's box in the bottom of the seventh tonight -- runners on first and second, no one out in a tie game -- he wasn't surprised to see Pat Listach give him the bunt sign. Even though he really wanted to swing away.
"In a competitive way, yeah," he said. "When I go up to the plate, I want to drive in every run I can. But when the bunt sign comes on, I'm gonna bunt. I'm not mad they gave me the bunt sign. I think I'm a good bunter, and I think it's an asset I have that can help the team."
Desmond, of course, failed to get the bunt down. He fell behind in the count, and suddenly he was free to swing away.
"I hate to say that I give more focus to those at-bats," he said. "But after I missed the bunt, I kind of told myself, 'Hey, we've got to really do something here. Let's go. Let's put something hard in play up the middle and see if we can get an RBI out of this.'"
Sure enough, Desmond ripped a fastball from Reds reliever Enerio Del Rosario to left field. Josh Willingham came around to score, and when Willie Harris added a sacrifice fly a few minutes later, the Nationals had themselves a 4-2 lead that held up by night's end.
Desmond would ultimately get ejected by umpire Joe West for slamming his helmet after getting called out for oversliding third base on that Harris sac fly, but that bit of theatrics was secondary to his greater contribution: another big RBI from a kid who has become his team's best clutch hitter.
"He's got a lot of great qualities, but one of his qualities is he's been a clutch player," Jim Riggleman said. "He's got some big hits for us. They've been kind of hard to come by lately, but he kind of loosened everybody up with that one."
Want evidence of Desmond's ability in these spots? He's now batting .373 with runners in scoring position. All other times, he's hitting .216.
At the other end of the spectrum, Adam Dunn is batting .315 in other situations, but .173 with runners in scoring position. The slugger is even worse when there are two outs and runners in scoring position, having gone 0-for-22 in such spots this season.
"I've known Ian for a long time. He's a very smart baseball player," Ryan Zimmerman said. "He understands the game, and I think those are the kind of guys that come through. You have to understand the situation. You have to think ahead. He's just a very heads-up guy. He puts together good at-bats, and so far he's been good in those situations."
Desmond was hardly the only National to make tonight's win possible. It took a collective effort that included some gutsy pitching from Livan Hernandez (two runs allowed despite eight hits, four walks and a balk), a fantastic catch in right field from Roger Bernadina and three scoreless innings of relief from Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Matt Capps.
Thanks to all of that, the Nats managed to shake off those three ugly losses in Houston and start off an important homestand with an impressive victory. That they did it in front of an energetic crowd of 33,774 -- which came hoping to see Stephen Strasburg but instead got to see a nice performance from the home team -- only added to the significance.
"It was a good way to move on," Storen said. "That was a tough pill to swallow, that whole road trip. I think we kind of turned the page."