A few weeks ago, Ian Desmond hit a home run. It tied the game against the Baltimore Orioles and was Desmond’s sixth of the young season.
A few hours before that, he’d met Josh.
Joshua Akers was hanging out behind the batting cage that Friday afternoon and Desmond struck up a conversation with him. He spent a few minutes talking with him between hacks, as the boy’s mother prompted him to speak up and let the Nationals’ shortstop know what he was doing there. Five years ago, he told Desmond, he’d beaten Leukemia.
When his homer that night sailed into the left field stands at Nationals Park, Desmond rounded the bases quickly and made his way into the dugout. He threw his arm around the security guard and asked him to be sure they secured that ball. It was for Joshua.
Desmond came up with a chance to tie the game three times in the eighth inning or later Tuesday night and he came through each time. He sent a single to right field in the eighth and scored Ryan Zimmerman. The game was tied at four. He sent a rocket to shortstop in the 10th inning that Jordany Valdespin couldn’t handle and scored Zimmerman. The game was tied at five.
In the 12th, again down a run, Desmond stroked a double to left field and scored Michael Morse. Five batters later, Bryce Harper notched the first walk-off hit of his month-plus-old career.
It was the first time since Art Shamsky on Aug. 12, 1966 for the Reds that any player had tied the game three times in the eighth inning or later, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“That’s what we’re all about,” Desmond said. “Finding a way. It doesn’t matter what it looks like or anything like that. You just want to get ‘W’s’.”
Desmond joined Twitter about a month ago, a new foray into social media for the 26-year-old. Already he’s followed by almost 4,600 people — a number that’s sure to grow as the shortstop continues a strong year on a first-place team.
A few days ago, Desmond noticed a boy named Ethan Brown asking for prayers on twitter. Brown, who is college-aged, is suffering from Neurofibromatosis 2, a genetic disorder in which tumors form on the nerves of the brain and spine. Desmond told Brown he’d be praying for him and the two exchanged a few tweets back-and-forth.
“He kind of inspired me a little bit,” Desmond said.
When he came to the plate in the eighth inning Tuesday night, Desmond’s mind paused for a moment and he thought of Akers and Brown.
Now two months into his third year in the major leagues, Desmond has put together his finest overall season thus far. In the past, he knew, he might have looked out at Zimmerman on second base and wanted to win the game with one swing. Instead he realized all he needed was a base hit. Tie the game, allow the next man up an opportunity to do his job.
He was calm. He did his job.
“Before I went up there for that at-bat, I just said ‘Hey, if these kids can battle through Leukemia and cancer, I can calm myself down enough to just get a hit. Or put enough concentration into the at-bat where I’m not going to do something stupid.’”
There’s a big difference, Desmond knows, in the battles Akers and Brown face, and what he was up against Tuesday night. Baseball, after all, will never compare to matters of life and death. But as the Nationals notched their sixth walk-off victory of the season and they mobbed Harper around first base, they provided a moment of happiness for plenty — including Brown and Akers.
Joshua was in attendance, Ethan tweeted he’d been listening.
“Those guys were definitely on my mind when I was up there,” Desmond said. “Thank God for putting them in my life.
“Be able to fight through that? It’s amazing.”