The best indicator about the way the Nationals feel about themselves happened shortly after the mob dispersed. As Espinosa gave a television interview in front of the Nationals’ dugout, Roger Bernadina and Ian Desmond sneaked behind and doused him with a bucket of Gatorade. Even after Desmond pushed Espinosa, he still did not know the identity of the culprits.
“It was just so fun to win that game,” Espinosa said. “To stay on a roll, to stay hot, it’s so awesome. . . . We’re turning things around. Losing isn’t acceptable in this clubhouse.”
The Cardinals came into Nationals Park on Tuesday tied for the second-best record in the National League, and they left having been swept by a combined score of 25-10. You could not be blamed for wanting to peek at the standings, and if you did, you would see the Nationals are 5½ games out of the wild-card lead.
The standings check may be premature, but in Washington it’s hard to know when it’s appropriate. The Nationals haven’t been this close to a playoff race, this late in the season, since 2005. Laynce Nix, who hit a solo homer Thursday night, played on two playoff teams before signing with the Nats this winter.
“It kind of feels the early stages of those teams, where we’ve got to convince ourselves and believe that we’re capable of that,” Nix said. “And we are. If we keep playing well and beating good teams, we’ll start realizing we can compete and should be winning those games.”
The bottom of the 10th began when Ryan Zimmerman strode to the plate, the crowd roaring and hoping they would soon be leaving. Zimmerman could not provide that with one swing, but started a rally with a groundball single up the middle.
“They’ve battled and scrapped, and I’ve been watching them,” Zimmerman said. “It’s fun to be a part of it.”
Said starter John Lannan of Zimmerman, “He just brings something to the team that you really can’t describe.”
With one out, Fernando Salas hit Michael Morse with a pitch, putting the winning run in scoring position. Up came Espinosa, who has put himself in contention for both the all-star team and the rookie of the year award.
Espinosa took a strike and two balls, then, batting left-handed, roped a high change-up from Salas toward the Nationals’ bullpen. Espinosa did not know if he had gotten every bit of it, or if he had hit it high enough.