ATLANTA - Dusty Baker is back in the Nationals dugout tonight, back with his team after spending two days at home in California following the death of a family member.
Baker arrived at Turner Field shortly after 4 p.m., luggage in tow after an all-day flight from the West Coast. He said he was able to watch Wednesday's game (a 1-0 victory over the Mets) on television, and found himself getting perhaps even more emotionally invested than he usually does when he's watching up-close.
"It's a little different being at home," he said. "I was a more than interested fan. I was cursing at the TV sometimes when I thought balls were strikes and strikes were balls. But I was glad we won. I was glad that I went home, took care of business, and now I'm back."
While Baker was back to work this evening, shortstop Danny Espinosa was still en route from Southern California to Atlanta after his wife, Sara, gave birth to the couple's first son.
Espinosa left Washington after Wednesday's game and made it home in time for the birth on Thursday. He was scheduled to arrive in Atlanta around 8 p.m., but Baker had already decided to give him this game off.
Stephen Drew started in Espinosa's place at shortstop, an important step for the veteran infielder, who is trying to get back into full baseball shape after missing seven weeks with an inner-ear condition that caused vertigo-like symptoms.
"I see his progression on the field," Baker said. "I'm going to try to get him into a couple games, see what his endurance is like. Try to get his stroke together. You notice I put him up there the other night (off the bench). I'm trying to put him in as many situations as I can, 'cause he was really the surprise of the year for me, and for quite a few other people. It took a while to get the Yankee Stadium stroke out of him, but he worked hard on it. He's using the whole field. ... He's a big piece of our puzzle."
Update: The Nationals jumped all over Braves starter John Gant tonight, knocking the rookie right-hander out after only 1 2/3 innings, scoring as many runs as outs he recorded (five). Anthony Rendon got things started in the top of the first with a two-run single, giving him 78 RBIs on the season. Trea Turner then was up to his old tricks in the top of the second, launching a two-run homer to left-center. That's his ninth homer in 246 big league at-bats this season. Oh, and he already has notched multiple hits tonight, the 30th time he's done that in 55 starts. Daniel Murphy added an RBI double later, giving the Nationals a 5-0 lead and leaving the Braves to ask for 7 1/3 innings from their bullpen tonight. Max Scherzer, meanwhile, cruised through a 1-2-3 bottom of the first but gave up a run in the bottom of the second on Matt Kemp's double and Tyler Flowers' single to left-center. Scherzer does have three strikeouts through two innnings, though. The Nats lead 5-1 in the third.
Update II: They've played five innings now, and it remains a 5-1 lead for the Nats. Scherzer has given up some hard-hit balls but has been helped out by some nice defense and his usual ability to make batters swing-and-miss. He has six strikeouts through five innings. Braves reliever Ryan Weber, meanwhile, has dominated since replacing Gant in the second inning. He struck out give ina row at one point and has kept the Nats from threatening again. In other news, Espinosa has arrived at Turner Field. Sara and baby boy Ty, who was born last night, are doing well, according to the club.
Update III: The Braves cut the deficit to 5-2 in the sixth, but thanks to some more stellar defense by the Nats, this game isn't any closer. Murphy has made a pair of great plays at second base to close out innings, and Ryan Zimmerman flashed some crazy-fast reflexes to snag a line drive to first. Scherzer has thrown 84 pitches through six innings.
Update IV: It's 6-2 after seven now. Turner basically scored the insurance run on his own, with a single and two stolen bases, putting him in position to score on Murphy's sac fly. Scherzer, meanwhile, gutted out seven innings of two-run ball, the 18th time this season he's done at least that, tops in the majors.
Update V: It's a final. Nats win 7-2 after tacking on another run in the ninth on another hit by Turner (his fourth of the night). Blake Treinen pitched the eighth, and Shawn Kelley pitched the ninth to close this one out. The Mets beat the Twins up at Citi Field, though, so the magic number is now six.