We’ve certainly seen plenty of high-wire moments between the Nats and Phillies this week, but tonight’s action might have been the most entertaining of all three games. The Nats took an 8-2 lead into the ninth, only to see the Phillies rally for five runs and bring the go-ahead run to the plate in the person of Ryan Howard—pretty much the last guy you want to face in that situation.
But Washington turned a double play to escape with the 8-7 win.
The big story tonight was the debut of shortstop Ian Desmond, the one-time prospect who’s been on an odyssey of sorts in the minors for the last five years. Desmond, who was drafted when the team was still in Montreal, struggled for 3 1/2 seasons and then broke the hamate bone in his left hand, nearly slipping off the radar in the organization.
But he batted a combined .330 this year at Class AAA Syracuse and Class AA Harrisburg, with bench coach Pat Corrales, who was scouting the team’s minor-league system earlier this season, raving at one point that Harrisburg was a different team with Desmond on the field. He earned a call-up, and stole the show in his major-league debut.
Desmond went 2-for-4 with a homer and four RBI, becoming just the fifth player in franchise history to homer in his debut and breaking Coco Laboy’s 40-year-old record for RBI in a debut.
“A tremendous performance,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “There’s no way I can explain how great a ballgame he had. He’s a talented guy. He’ll do that, and we saw him exhibit it in a lot of ways tonight.”
Desmond’s three-run homer in the fifth put the Nats up 8-2, but it wound up being the decisive blow in the game. He blasted a hanging Joe Blanton curveball to left on the first pitch, sprinting around the bases (out of fear the ball wouldn’t go out, like the long flyout to center he hit in the first) and eventually getting a curtain call from the Nats fans among the Phillies-heavy crowd of 18,706.
It took Desmond a few seconds to come out, with Class AAA Syracuse manager Tim Foli and several players finally telling him to hop up the top step and take his curtain call.
“I’d never had anything like that happen before,” Desmond said. “I didn’t know if they were being serious or not. I didn’t want to look like a dummy.”
Desmond made a potentially costly throwing error in the ninth inning, which displayed the biggest problem he’s had in his professional career. He’s never made it through a season with less than 23 errors, and he airmailed Adam Dunn on a routine grounder in the ninth. But the Nationals love his range and athleticism, and he could be the eventual successor to Cristian Guzman at shortstop.
That could be in 2011, or earlier if the Nats move Guzman’s $8 million contract. But Desmond showed at the plate why he’s got a big future in Washington. Even his outs were hard-hit, and other than the error, Riggleman praised his defense.
“It’s just an extraordinary game,” Riggleman said. “Not many people put the barrel on the ball that well in the same game. He was taking pitches. It looked like he was ready to go.”