PITTSBURGH | Josh Willingham parlayed one memorable night into a week’s worth of honors.
The Washington Nationals outfielder, who slugged two grand slams last Monday in Milwaukee, was named National League co-player of the week, sharing the award with San Francisco Giants ace Tim Lincecum.
Willingham’s recognition certainly was boosted by his monstrous performance against the Brewers - he became only the 13th player in major league history to hit two grand slams in the same game - but he wasn’t too shabby the rest of the week, either.
Willingham’s numbers for the entire week: a .435 average (10-for-23), three homers, 11 RBI, two doubles, seven runs, a .519 on-base percentage and a .913 slugging percentage.
“It’s obviously a great honor, and it was a great week for me,” he said. “It’s something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
This latest week’s worth of hits may have garnered Willingham the most attention, but he has been putting up big numbers for about three months now. Since May 7, he’s hitting .332 with 16 homers, 39 RBI and a 1.090 OPS that ranks among the league’s best.
This has been by far the best prolonged stretch of Willingham’s six-year career. A .261 hitter with the Florida Marlins before his trade to Washington over the winter, he has taken off at age 30.
“I can’t really explain it,” he said. “I’m just glad that I’m in there every day. I’m just trying to simplify everything and get a good pitch to hit it. I’m trying not to think about it too much.
“I think sometimes you can get yourself into trouble when you’re trying to think about it too much.”
It’s easy to forget now that Willingham opened the season as the Nationals’ fifth outfielder, stuck behind Adam Dunn, Lastings Milledge, Austin Kearns and Elijah Dukes. Now, interim manager Jim Riggleman hates the thought of benching him for even one day.
“That’s where there’s a lesson to be learned for a lot of people,” Riggleman said. “A lot of people would have gone in the tank and pouted and not handled it very well, not be prepared for when the opportunity did arise. And that didn’t happen. He just kept pushing, kept working with [hitting coach] Rick Eckstein for when the opportunity did present itself.”
Last man standing
Nick Johnson’s trade to Florida on Friday left the Nationals without any remaining Montreal Expos players on their roster. But there are two guys left who were part of the Expos’ farm system: pitchers Jason Bergmann and Collin Balester.
Bergmann, in fact, is now the longest-tenured player in the entire organization, having been selected by Montreal in the 11th round of the 2002 draft.
“Actually, it’s a pretty neat feeling,” the right-hander said. “I guess I came up through the organization at a time when our system wasn’t thought much of. And certainly it’s been a major transition. … Through all the change, I’ve been here.”