Each time Ian Desmond went to the plate last night in a crucial situation, he thought about two kids he met recently. In his final three at-bats, Desmond walked from the on-deck circle with the Nationals down a run. He drove in a game-tying run in all three, once in the eighth, once in the 10th and again in the 12th to set up Bryce Harper’s walk-off single. Desmond gave credit to those two kids. “Thank God for putting them in my life,” he said.
The first kid is Joshua Akers, 10 years old. Before a game a couple weeks ago, Desmond walked up to him behind the Nationals’ batting cage and started chatting. He signed a ball for him. Akers’ mother told him to tell Desmond why he had been invited to the game. He explained it was his fifth anniversary of ridding himself of Leukemia.
The second is Ethan Brown. Desmond met him on Twitter this week after Brown asked him for prayers. Brown has a form of cancer that gives him tumors on his brain. He recently lost most of his hearing, and he has six months of grueling treatment ahead.
“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,” Desmond said. “Those guys were definitely on my mind when I was up there.”
In the eighth inning, Desmond came up with two outs and Ryan Zimmerman, who had led off the inning with a single, on second. Desmond laced a high fastball from Frank Francisco into right field. The Nationals had lost the lead in the top of the inning, and Desmond had given it right back.
“I just kept telling myself the same thing,” Desmond said. “Just be calm right here. Just be calm. Let’s get a good pitch to hit and let’s put another one on the board. I wasn’t trying to win the game with a home run. I just wanted to score one run. Just try to get the one in. I think that’s a mistake that I’ve been making for a while. I would go up there and try to win the game instead of just hit. Let’s tie it and let the next guy do his job. It was nice.”
In the 10th, Desmond needed some help. He walked to the plate with runners on first and second with one out. The Mets had already turned the inning a special kind of mess. Zimmerman had reached on an error by shortstop Jordany Valdespin. Ike Davis could have started a double play, but he booted Adam LaRoche’s grounder. Michael Morse reached on a wall.
Against Bobby Parnell, Desmond ripped another possible double play ball, right at Valdespin. And he booted it again. Zimmerman scampered home with the tying run, and the inning continued.
Desmond felt bad for Valdespin, a friend from their days on the same winter ball team. But he was not apologized for how the run scored.
“I got the pitch I wanted to hit and I hit it hard,” Desmond said. “If he would have turned that double play I would have tipped my cap to him because I hit that ball pretty hard.”
Desmond again found himself in a key spot in the 12th. Michael Morse led off with a double off the out-of-town scoreboard. Desmond followed and chopped a hard double down the left field line. The Nationals would end the game five batters, when Harper knocked his first walk-off hit.
Desmond had made it possible for the Nationals to win. And, he believed, two kids fighting much tougher battles had made it possible for him.
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOUNRAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 11, Louisville 1: John Lannan allowed one run in nine innings on four hits and a walk, striking out six. Corey Brown went 3 for 4 with a home run and a walk. Tyler Moore went 2 for 4 with a home run and a double. Erik Komatsu went 3 for 5 with a home run.
Harrisburg 9, Binghamton 6: Jesus Valdez went 3 for 4 with two home runs. Manny Mayorson went 2 for 4. Rafael Martin was officially placed on the restricted list.
Frederick 8, Potomac 5: Zach Walters went 1 for 4 with a double. Randolph Oduber went 2 for 3 with a walk. Blake Kelso went 1 for 2 with two walks.
Potomac 3, Frederick 1: Trevor Holder allowed one run in six innings on five hits and two walks, striking out six. Blake Kelso went 1 for 2 with a walk.
Hagerstown 7, Kannapolis 6: Matt Purke allowed two runs in 4 2/3 innings on five hits and three walks, striking out eight. Brian Goodwin went 2 for 5 with a double and a walk. Matt Skole went 2 for 4 with two walks.