- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

With nobody on and two outs in the 10th inning Tuesday night, Washington Nationals third baseman Yunel Escobar thought he’d get a fastball from Carlos Villanueva. He knew a single wouldn’t win the game. And he wanted to be aggressive. So when Escobar got his fastball, he was swinging for the win.

The native Cuban crushed the first pitch he saw from Villanueva, sending the ball deep into the visiting bullpen in left field. The crowd roared as the ball skipped off the ground and Escobar rounded the bases, sliding headfirst into home plate, where a mob of white jerseys and a Gatorade bath were waiting for him. His solo homer, the third such walk-off hit of his career, gave the Nationals a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

“He just [knew] that [if] he can get the pitch that he want, he can win the game,” said bullpen catcher Nilson Robledo, translating for Escobar.

Escobar had not recorded a walk-off home run since April 5, 2011. And he said he had never slid headfirst into home after recording the winning hit.

“Sometimes you have to change,” Escobar said, with Robledo translating. “Try to have fun.”

His teammates certainly appreciated that moment.

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“He’s more of the Cuban flavor that we’re all missing. I was 50 percent of that. He’s the full percentage,” Gio Gonzalez said. “I think he’s just exciting. He’s got life to him. Teammates love him here. He’s just a different ballplayer. It just seems like he’s more than happy, more than welcome to be here. We’re treating him like he’s been here for five, six years already.”

Escobar had missed Washington’s previous two games with a strained groin muscle. On Tuesday night, he said the injury is still causing him pain, but he feels it is something he needs to play through.

Escobar was 0-for-4 at the plate in his return until the 10th inning, when he looked for a fastball and got it. Manager Matt Williams lauded Escobar for his situational hitting.

“He understands the game,” Williams said. “He understands when to take a chance and when we need just a base hit. And in that situation, he took a chance on getting a fastball and got it and hit it to his pull side. He got it elevated and over the fence.”

The Nationals acquired Escobar from the Oakland Athletics this winter in exchange for reliever Tyler Clippard. The 31-year-old infielder was originally brought in to start at second base, but he has primarily played third this season with Anthony Rendon recovering from a strained medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

Escobar was among the team leaders in hits and total bases before injuring his groin Friday night against the Philadelphia Phillies. He has brought a calm approach to the plate and stability in the field. And a little bit of flair, too.

“I’ve been playing this game a long time. There’s many different ways to play it,” Jayson Werth said. “Some of the guys from the Latin countries, they play a different style of baseball. But in the end, he plays the right way. He plays hard and plays to win. That’s all that matters to me.”

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