Espinosa pow­ers Nats to vic­tory

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - NA­TION­ALS 7, ORI­OLES 4 BY CHELSEA JANES

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.

PA­TRICK SEMANSKY/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Danny Espinosa high-fives fel­low Nats Clint Robin­son and Wil­son Ramos af­ter his three-run homer.

PA­TRICK SEMANSKY/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Bryce Harper watches his 26th homer, a sixth-in­ning solo shot, as Ori­oles catcher Caleb Joseph and um­pire Paul Nauert also look on.

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