So far, he has had a great series. “No,” third base coach Bo Porter said. “A great year.”
In a two-game snapshot, Desmond has managed to distill his impact on the Nationals’ season in their postseason.
“I think he is the one that has made us become this team,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “He was kind of the missing piece, that young guy that needed to mature and needed to become that superstar player — or maybe not a superstar, but that relevant player on our team. We needed someone else, without going and spending $100 million. And Desi has finally taken that step this year.”
Finally. Desmond this year became one of the best shortstops in the majors — his 5.4 wins above replacement, per FanGraphs.com, ranked first in the big leagues. “It’s cool now,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said, “because people can see what he’s been doing all year.”
On Sunday, Desmond laced three hits and scored the game-winning run. On Monday, he ripped a single, alertly dashed home through Porter’s stop sign as the outfielder held the ball, and made an eye-popping, backhanded dive and an off-balance throw for an out. In the NLDS, he has played like the best player on the field.
“He’s an unbelievable talent, one of the more talented guys I’ve ever played with,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “He’s so calm, you think that he’s been playing this game for 10 years in the big leagues. He never gets too excited or too down on himself.”
It may seem that way now, but Desmond did not always exude calm and confidence. In 2004, after the Montreal Expos drafted Desmond out of Sarasota (Fla.) High, current Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr managed him at Class A Savannah.
“Big leaguer,” Knorr said. “Right away.”
Desmond did not always believe that himself. That first year, he hit .228 and made 30 errors in 59 games. After a bad game, he would sulk in front of his locker, the last one in the clubhouse. Knorr would walk by and tell him to keep playing hard, that he would play in the majors someday.
“He gave me that look like, ‘You’re so full of [nonsense],’ ” Knorr said. “I remember that.”
Desmond credited his slow rise as the reason for his early postseason success. He took mistakes hard, but he learned from them. In Game 1 against the Cardinals, he threw out a runner at the plate with a strong, smooth throw. As he fielded the ball, he remembered a similar play last month in Atlanta, when he rushed a throw and allowed the winning run to score.