Danny Espinosa isn’t going to lie. When the Rays intentionally walked Adam LaRoche to get to the Nats second baseman with two outs in the sixth inning, he took it as a bit of a smack in the face.
“I definitely take it personally in the sense that I want to get ‘em,” Espinosa said. “I want to make ‘em pay for what they’re doing. I definitely don’t gear up and try to do anything that I can’t do. Just try to have a good at-bat and get a good pitch to hit.”
He sure did, ripping a 1-1 splitter from Joel Peralta down the right-field line for a two-run double. The knock made it a 4-2 game, and the Nats tacked on another run an inning later to put it away.
“I knew they weren’t going to pitch to Adam, so it felt good to have the pressure on me,” Espinosa said. “To come through for my team that way, it felt awesome.”
Shortstop Ian Desmond is one of Espinosa’s closest friends on the team. He’s watched Espinosa struggle this season, especially hitting left-handed, and knows what that type of hit means to him.
“He knew what he wanted in that situation right there,” Desmond said. “Obviously a little bit of drama from a couple days past with Peralta. They walk LaRoche to get to Espi, and I know Danny’s character enough to know that in that situation he’s going to rise up and get the job done.
“You want to prove your worth and contribute to a winning team. I think he’s probably beaten himself up the most because he hasn’t been playing up to the potential that he can. It’s definitely going to come. We all know it’s going to come. And tonight was a glimpse of it.”
The next inning, Ryan Mattheus was tasked with protecting the lead Espinosa gave the Nats. Mattheus came on with the bases loaded and two outs, and ended up facing pinch hitter Will Rhymes. Entering that situation, with the sacks packed, Mattheus knew he had no choice but to go after the .228 hitter.
“That’s the No. 1 thing (bullpen coach) Jimmy Lett was telling me down in the ‘pen,” Mattheus said. “We have bases loaded, he was telling me there’s nowhere to put him. My thought process going in was I had to throw him a strike. Sure enough, I throw him two balls right off the bat. But it’s good that I could make a pitch when I needed it.”
Mattheus was down 2-0 in the count and then down 3-1. But he battled back, throwing two straight two-seam fastballs to get the strikeout to end the inning.
“My thought process once I fell behind was he’s going to have to beat my best stuff,” Mattheus said. “I went at him with sinkers and luckily I was able to make a pitch 3-1, and then 3-2 again.”
Lastly, there was a bizarre play in the third inning tonight which ended up not mattering in the long run, but which I still found interesting. With two outs, Desmond ripped an RBI single to center to score Bryce Harper and then took second base when the Rays infielders fell asleep.
First baseman Carlos Pena ended up with the cutoff throw, and he turned his back on Desmond and casually walked towards pitcher Matt Moore, ready to give him the ball. That’s when Desmond scampered to second, surprising nearly everyone on the field.
“I think Pena was lined up to go home for the cutoff when Bryce was rounding third, and nobody was at first,” Desmond said. “(First base coach Trent Jewett) was yelling, ‘Nobody’s here! Nobody’s here!’ So I just had the freedom to get off (first) as far as I wanted. I saw that whoever caught the ball flipped it to Pena, Pena turned his back to me and I figured I could go. Hat’s off to Trent.”