Tuesday night, Ian Desmond cradled his newborn son in his left arm and held his smart phone in right hand. He focused most of his attention on hours-old Grayson Wesley Desmond, the first child whose birth he would later call “indescribable.” He also peeked at that phone, which displayed the Washington Nationals’ game.
Desmond tended to his wife and newborn son during his two days on paternity leave, but he also watched the Nationals lose twice and wished he could help. Thursday night, playing his first game since becoming a father, Desmond went 2 for 4 with a triple and a solo home run, lifting the Nationals to a 4-3 victory over the New York Mets before 15,142 at Nationals Park.
Starter Livan Hernandez, playing with his own unique personal circumstances, held the Mets to three runs in eight innings while scoring one run himself and driving in another with a bunt. He ceded to Drew Storen, who earned his fourth save with a scoreless ninth. Ivan Rodriguez pumped his fist behind home plate when Willie Harris swung through a 3-2 slider, an exclamation point on the Nats halting a three-game skid.
During a needed victory where “a lot of good things happened,” Manager Jim Riggleman said, Desmond stood out. He had seen his teammates lose twice without him and believed he could help. He played flawless defense while smashing a triple in the his second at-bat and a homer in his third, both bullets to left-center. The homer flew over the fence in front of the bullpen; the triple almost knocked it over.
“It’s nice to be back,” Desmond said. “Watching the games the last two days, it seemed like the team needed a little spark. I came in here today hoping to do that, and I did. It felt really good.”
Riggleman thought Desmond seemed more relaxed than before he left, which could have owed to either his impending fatherhood or his slow start. When Desmond headed to Florida to be with his wife, he led the majors in errors and had a .253 on-base percentage and a .333 slugging percentage.
Last week, after a loss in Pittsburgh in which he made two errors, Desmond sighed heavily and struggled to explain his frustration. The next day, Riggleman gave Desmond a day off and wondered how much the impending birth of his son weighed on him.
“He just really played relaxed tonight,” Riggleman said. “As always, I’m really proud of him. He’s a great competitor and has gone through some tough times here in April. I know he’s at a special time in his life. I’m just really happy for him. With everything else going on his life right now, this just tops it off here tonight.”
Desmond insisted the trip home and the happy, healthy state of his family was wonderful — “the best thing I’ve seen in my entire life,” he said — but separate from his baseball career.
“I feel exactly the same as when I left,” Desmond said. “I’m not going to give any credit to Grayson or my wife. It’s me. I’m out here playing.”
This is a true sentence you will not often read: Hernandez took the mound the day after a U.S. attorney said he is the subject of a money laundering investigation tied to a recently convicted drug trafficker. But it was not necessarily news to Hernandez. He has known that his name has been mentioned in the case all season — the testimony that ensnared him occurred a day before he started the Nationals’ season opener.
Now that the information has spread publicly, his performance remained impervious to the unusual outside factor swirling around him. When Hernandez was introduced, the sparse crowd cheered as usual.
“Whatever comes out, if people don’t say the truth, it’s okay,” Hernandez said. “If something come out, I can’t do nothing. The fans are great — the best fans in baseball. They support the team.”
Hernandez struck out five, retired the first six batters he faced, confronted the minimum through three innings, singled to center in his first at-bat and scored the game’s first run when Jayson Werth doubled him home.
Hernandez played a role in another Nationals run, too, during a fourth-inning rally. He came to the plate in the fourth with Jerry Hairston on third base and one out. From the dugout, Riggleman called for a safety squeeze bunt.
Hernandez, who has already bunted home one runner this year, dribbled a bunt down the third base line. Hairston bolted for home, and Hernandez paused before he ran to first, impeding catcher Josh Thole. “When the ball doesn’t go too far,” Hernandez said, “you’ve got to wait so the catcher don’t go and get the ball fast.” By the time Thole scooped the ball and lunged back toward the plate, Hairston was crossing it to make the score 3-1.
In the seventh, the Mets nearly moved the tying run into scoring position. Jose Reyes, perhaps the fastest man in baseball, singled with two outs. He tried to steal second and got a decent jump against Hernandez, but Rodriguez gunned him down. His offense may be fading, but the cannon attached to his right shoulder is not.
“I’m not going to lie to you,” Rodriguez said. “That was a missile.”
The man who caught it was Desmond. The last time Desmond had pitched, he had dropped two balls on steal attempts, hurting Hernandez’s chance to win the 450th start of his career. Afterward, Desmond expressed disappointment, specifically that he’d let Hernandez down.
Wednesday, he sent Hernandez pictures of his baby. Thursday, he helped him win.
“He’s Big Daddy,” Hernandez said. “Big Daddy came through today.”