“He was basically our offense and our defense,” the Nats’ skipper said.
Ankiel did it all tonight, hitting his first home run of the season, scoring both of the Nationals’ runs, showing fantastic aggressiveness and intelligence on the basepaths, tracking down balls in the gap and letting his arm further intimidate baserunners.
“It was a great game, outstanding game,” Johnson said. “He won it for us.”
The solo home run from Ankiel got the Nats on the board in the third inning, and the Nationals center fielder followed it up with a single in the fifth. But his third hit of the night - a double in the eighth in a one-run game - might have been the most impressive of the bunch.
Facing Marlins righty Steve Cishek, Ankiel lifted a ball to right, and was thinking double all the way. The throw to second by right fielder Giancarlo Stanton clearly beat Ankiel to the bag, but Ankiel deked shortstop Jose Reyes by initially reaching toward the base with his left hand, then pulling it back and grabbing the bag with his right.
Ankiel was correctly called safe, although the call didn’t set well with the Marlins.
“I’m just thankful that (second base umpire) Phil Cuzzi hung in there with me,” Ankiel said. “A lot of times, when the ball beats you, you just automatically get called out. But it was the right call and I’m glad he hung in there.”
The play turned out to be huge, as Ankiel made his way to third on a fielder’s choice and then scored on Ian Desmond’s two-out infield single to give the Nationals a key insurance run.
Ankiel also got the job done defensively in the eighth inning, making an impressive running catch on the warning track on a ball struck well by Marlins pinch hitter Chris Coghlan. In addition, Ankiel’s strong arm prevented Stanton from tagging from third to try and score on a would-be sacrifice fly in the second inning.
“I feel like that’s the ultimate compliment - when they won’t send guys,” Ankiel said. “I just appreciate it. There’s pride there. That shows a lot of respect.”
All in all, Ankiel finished the day 3-for-3 at the plate, accounting for all but one of the Nats’ hits. Based on the approach he saw from Ankiel in spring training (one in which the left-handed hitter is more patient at the plate and hitting to all fields), manager Davey Johnson has said that he feels this could be Ankiel’s best season yet.
The 32-year-old agrees.
“Why not?” Ankiel said. “I think some stuff that I found in the swing and just getting older, I feel comfortable. Certainly the opportunity is there, so if I can stay focused on what I want to do up there and swing at good pitches, I feel like it could be (my best year), too.”