With one hack, Espinosa smote Nationals Park’s two newest villains, struck a blow for his maligned left-handed swing and lifted the Nationals to a 5-2 victory and series win against the Rays. Espinosa’s two-out, two-run double into the right field corner hung the loss on Peralta, who pitched as he appealed the eight-game suspension Major League Baseball levied Thursday afternoon.
After Espinosa rolled into second base, he pumped his fist, punctuating the turning point of a game packed with action. Gio Gonzalez needed 50 pitches for the first two innings, but lasted six and earned his ninth win. Reliever Ryan Mattheus entered with two outs in the seventh inning and struck out pinch-hitter Will Rhymes with the bases loaded. Ryan Zimmerman struck out in his first three at-bats, finding new depths in a rocky season, but salvaged his night with a single.
Shortstop Ian Desmond was everywhere. He nailed an RBI single, and afterward he took second base while the Rays fell asleep. He made a dazzling, spinning defensive play up the middle. He calmed Gonzalez after the lefty grew irritated with the umpiring in the second. “He was taking some deep breaths for me,” Gonzalez said.
Desmond even assisted the woman running the mid-inning “Steal Second Base” contest, running to shallow center to hand her the base. When she broke the tape with four seconds to spare, Desmond raised his fist.
“She had no chance otherwise,” Desmond said. “I didn’t want to see her use all that energy and not win.”
Espinosa, the other half of Washington’s dynamic double-play combination, provided the game’s most crucial hit. The Rays had tied the game in the top of the sixth inning on Sean Rodriguez’s single under Gonzalez’s glove, the seventh hit he allowed, matching a season high. Gonzalez, already on one knee, dropped his chin to his chest. He would escape further damage with a strikeout of Elliot Johnson on a backdoor, 96-mph sinker on the black.
In the bottom of the inning, Maddon relieved starter Matt Moore with Peralta, whom the crowd cascaded with boos. Peralta, a National in 2010, had touched off the grumpy-old-managers firestorm between Maddon and Davey Johnson when Johnson caught him with pine tar in his glove Tuesday night.
“I don’t even want to go there,” Johnson said Thursday.
He got two quick outs before catcher Jesus Flores roped a double to left field. Johnson pinch-hit for Gonzalez with Adam LaRoche, who had been a given a rare night out of the lineup. Maddon intentionally walked LaRoche, choosing to pitch to the switch-hitting Espinosa as a left-handed hitter.