May 31, 2014, 12:21 AM EST
As Ian Desmond crossed the plate on the heels of the first 3-run homer struck by a Nationals batter in eons, anybody who stood within shouting distance of the fired-up shortstop had to brace himself for what was about to be unleashed.
Desmond got Jayson Werth first with an emphatic high-five. Adam LaRoche and Nate McLouth were next. Then came every soul inside the dugout, each high-five delivered with as much force as the previous.
“I think he got Rochie first, so I kind of gave a little bit,” McLouth said. “I saw it coming, so I was able to put a little cushion in my shoulder there.”
Desmond let out some emotion there, and why not? His fourth-inning blast off Colby Lewis was the Nationals’ first 3-run homer since April 16, a span of 38 games. That it also happened to give the Nats the lead and send them on their way to a 9-2 drubbing of the Rangers only added to the celebratory mood.
“Party,” Desmond said afterward. “We’re not having enough fun. People have been making that known to us. So, every time we hit one now, it’s a party in here.”
Wait, who said you weren’t having enough fun?
“Everybody,” Desmond replied. “Friends. Family. Teammates. Everyone sees it. When you’re going through tough times, this is our job. People have to put that into perspective sometimes, too. This is how we provide for our families. Sometimes we lose sight of the fact this is a game, but at the same time, it’s tough also.”
The Nationals admittedly were a downtrodden team earlier this week after losing six of seven, falling two games below the .500 mark and having to deal with a never-ending stream of questions about their inability to deliver big hits at key moments. So they took Thursday off to hit the refresh button, then showed up Friday with renewed energy.
They hit a brief bump in the road in the top of the second when in the span of two minutes, Stephen Strasburg bobbled an easy comebacker for an error, gave up an RBI single, was visited by the head trainer, his manager and pitching coach after they saw him “doing some funny things out there” and gave up another RBI single to the opposing pitcher.
Down 2-0, Strasburg appeared on the verge of a self-inflicted meltdown. But then the right-hander composed himself and proceeded to toss four more scoreless innings to complete his night and impress those around him.
“It’s a trait that all pitchers need to have,” manager Matt Williams said. “It’s never absolutely clean all the time. He was a little animated and upset when he came back to the dugout, but that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing for him to be not pleased with not catching a ball and giving up a couple runs. It’s OK. That’s just competing.”
“I think he’s coming into his own,” Desmond said. “He’s starting to show a little bulldogness out there. I don’t know if that’s a word, but that’s what I see.”
In shutting down the opposition after that second-inning hiccup, Strasburg gave his teammates a chance to rally. Which they did, starting with Desmond’s big blast.
The 3-run homer just to the right of center field was a rare sight in these parts. Of the Nationals’ last 36 homers, 27 have been solo shots. And this one appeared to ignite the entire lineup.
“It was awesome,” said Tyler Moore, whose pinch-hit, 2-run double in the sixth gave the Nats some much-needed insurance. “Huge homer by Desi. That’s what you expect from a guy like that. He’s one of the leaders of the team. He came through for us tonight, and it was awesome. It got us going. It just kind of catapulted us on for the next inning and hopefully for the rest of the series.”
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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