These are the days that make September baseball so alluring, when Nationals manger Jim Riggleman can watch rookie infielder Danny Espinosa bound up the steps of the first-base dugout at Nationals Park to take his first curtain call in his first home game, flash back to Ian Desmond doing the same thing in his home debut last year, and dream about having the two of them turning double plays in his infield next year.
They're also the days that make September baseball so misleading; by June, pitchers will be well-armed with scouting reports on a rookie, knowing exactly what he likes and what he can't handle. The majors are not nearly as easy as Espinosa is making them look now, or Desmond made them look last September, and the New York Mets pitchers Espinosa throttled on Monday are not the pitchers he'd be facing in more meaningful games.
But for an organization like this one, when the future is the focus and the source of hope, days like Monday are valuable currency.
"It's one of those days where you feel good about the direction the organization is headed," Riggleman said. "It's a good day. It's a statement for the organization that, like what we've been saying, there is light at the end of the tunnel."
That was easy to see in a 13-3 win over the Mets, during which Espinosa hit two homers - his second and third in five big-league games - smashed a grand slam off the facing of the right-field upper deck and was bathed in curtain calls and standing ovations on a 4-for-5 day. The Nationals won for the seventh time in 11 games, a stretch in which they've scored 85 runs, and won for the 60th time this year after posting 59 victories each of the last two years.
The Nationals believe improvement is coming, and when they say that, they point to players like Desmond, Espinosa and right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, whom Riggleman said pitched better than a four-inning outing showed on Monday. They'll see Cuban right-hander Yunesky Maya throw for the first time tomorrow, and they'll hope for the day their two biggest prospects - Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper - are here and healthy at the same time.
"That's kind of the thing here," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "We've been on the right track, and now for the past two years, we've been hearing about all these guys. To see them and actually have them up here performing is good."
Espinosa, who started at shortstop for the first time on Monday while Desmond rested a sore hamstring, began the day on a low note, muffing a first-inning grounder that led to his first error and two unearned runs. Zimmermann walked three batters after that, and the Nationals were down 3-0.
The rest of the day, though, was a tour de force for Espinosa. He took a Mike Pelfrey fastball to left field for his first homer, narrowly missed a second one in his next at-bat when he flew out to the warning track, singled up the middle in his third at-bat and turned on a 1-0 fastball from Ryota Igarashi for his grand slam in the sixth. In his final at-bat in the eighth, Espinosa shot a double to left, improving his average in five games to .562 and his slugging percentage to 1.312.
"(The curtain call) was the biggest rush," Espinosa said. "I could see my family up there, and I saw all the fans. It was just a huge rush, and I had a whole bunch of adrenaline going through my body. I was so excited."
It's as exciting, if not more, for the players and team officials that have been waiting on a charge from players like Espinosa. On Monday, they could allow themselves to get caught up in it.
"The kid's amazing," catcher Ivan Rodriguez said. "There's a lot of expectation for him this year, and so far, he's doing a good job."