Espinosa powers Nats to victory
baltimore — The Washington Nationals moved to the District 10 years ago now, but the D.C. metro area is still disputed territory. In living rooms and on ball fields, on airwaves and in court rooms, the Nationals still wrestle the Baltimore Orioles for the baseball loyalty of a city still building a relationship with its newcomers.
As the Nationals beat the Orioles, 7-4, on Saturday night, the tug of war continued. Of course, hearts and respect are not won and lost in a night or a weekend.
But for the second straight evening, Baltimore and Washington’s baseball clubs yanked the lead back and forth across the field at Oriole Park in front of a sold-out crowd blanketed in orange, patched with red.
Danny Espinosa put Washington ahead for good with a three-run home run in the top of the sixth, a deep drive to right field responsible for the third lead change of the night.
Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann and Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez traded sometimes-shaky innings, gave up two home runs each, and each relinquished a lead. Stars shone and less-heralded players contributed. By the end of it all, the Nationals stood at 4739, having fended off the Mets, who won Saturday, to stay two games up in the National League East.
Zimmermann struggled Saturday night for the first time in a month. After four straight starts of at least seven innings and no more than three runs, the Orioles hit him hard through five innings, battering him for nine hits, four runs, and several hard-hit outs.
Zimmermann’s wife gave birth to the couple’s first child Friday morning, and he was placed on the paternity list the same day. He rejoined the team Saturday afternoon and was promptly reinstated to pitch on an extra day of rest. Zimmermann is not one for excuses, always blunt about a bad performance, but starters do cling to routine. Zimmermann was down 1- 0 after the bottom of the first inning, then led 2-1 after the top of the second. By the time he left after the bottom of the fifth, his Nationals trailed by two. A half inning later, they led by two.
The Nationals, who had lost three in a row, hit Baltimore starter Gonzalez hard early. Four of the first six batters to face the right-hander reached, and Washington had seven base runners through the first two innings.
In the second, Ian Desmond came to the plate with the bases loaded and no one out, and hit a ground ball up the middle that became a double play. For another hitter, in the midst of a less frustrating season, perhaps that ball would bound by an infielder or two for a seeing-eye single. But Desmond is battling to keep his batting average above .200 this year, unaided by bounces. A few batters later Michael A. Taylor hit a two-out single up the middle that gave the Nationals a brief lead.
Orioles’ number nine hitter Joseph took that lead back with a home run to dead center in the bottom of the second, a two-run shot. Right fielder Steve Pearce, added to the lineup just before game time when Chris Davis was too sick to play, hit a solo home run in the fourth. Bryce Harper hit a solo home run in the sixth, a few batters before Espinosa’s decisive blow.
Defense shone, too. The Orioles threw out Yunel Escobar at the plate in the first. Espinosa fielded a 101 mile per hour groundball by Adam Jones and turned it into a double play, adjusting to a high hop with a smooth backhanded snare likely destined for highlight reels.
Drama never dissipated. The Nationals bullpen was tested. Blake Treinen worked a scoreless sixth then walked the first two men he faced in the seventh. Orioles first baseman Chris Parmelee bunted in front of home plate. Wilson Ramos pounced and threw to third, hoping to get the lead runner, risking a bases-loaded, no-out entanglement. He got him, and control pivoted back to the Nationals. Treinen got another ground ball, and Felipe Rivero induced a deep fly ball to center.
Casey Janssen was charged with the tying run in the eighth Friday night, but redeemed himself with a 1-2-3 eighth inning Saturday. Closer Drew Storen put two runners on in the ninth but held the Orioles scoreless to earn his 26th save.
The Nationals and Orioles do not compete for division titles or even pennants. They are not so much rivals as competitive neighbors, because rivalries build over decades. Good teams and good games hasten the process. They played another thriller Saturday, in which the relative newcomers evened the series.
Danny Espinosa high-fives fellow Nats Clint Robinson and Wilson Ramos after his three-run homer.
Bryce Harper watches his 26th homer, a sixth-inning solo shot, as Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph and umpire Paul Nauert also look on.