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Danny Espinosa hits 2 homers, drives in 6 in Nats' win over Mets

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 6, 2010; 10:47 PM

The tall-tale beginning to Danny Espinosa's major league career reached an apex Monday afternoon. Ivan Rodriguez, a Hall of Fame catcher Espinosa grew up watching, had smacked him on the back with two hands and shoved him out of the dugout. The 20,224 at Nationals Park - a brand new place to Espinosa - roared. Espinosa lifted his helmet, and as he waved it over his head he looked into the stands behind home plate and pointed to his family.

"It was surreal," said Dan Espinosa, Danny's father.

That, really, is the only way to describe Espinosa's first six days with the Washington Nationals. Espinosa arrived in the major leagues Wednesday, short on sleep and running mostly on adrenaline. The rest of his time in the big leagues, apparently, he has been powered by gold dust.

Espinosa continued the astonishing first week of his major league career Monday in the Nationals' 13-3 thumping of the New York Mets by blasting two home runs, one of them a grand slam, while going 4 for 5 and driving in six runs. In the first five games since his call-up, Espinosa is 9 for 16 with three home runs, two doubles and 10 RBI. He also has one whipped cream pie to the face and, after he launched a grand slam to the upper deck in right field in the sixth inning, one curtain call in his first Nationals home game.

"I couldn't have imagined this," Espinosa said, wearing the team's Silver Elvis wig awarded to the star of the game. "I try not to think too much of it. I just try to go out there and play hard every day. But to have this kind of start, it's just unbelievable. It's an unbelievable feeling."

During a postgame interview in front of the Nationals' dugout, John Lannan slammed a pie in Espinosa's face, a redux of what happened to Stephen Strasburg after his debut. Fans can argue who had the better introduction at Nationals Park.

Espinosa started his onslaught with his at-bat in the third inning. A switch-hitter, he batted left-handed against Mets right-hander Mike Pelfrey. Espinosa lined a 1-2, 95-mph fastball straight down the left-field line.

The rocket tucked just inside the foul pole.

"I've never seen that out of anyone," Rodriguez said. "He hit an opposite-field, down-the-line home run. He's amazing."

It was only the start. In the fourth, Espinosa blasted a flyout to the warning track in center. He added a bounding, RBI single up the middle in the fifth. In the sixth, facing reliever Ryota Igarashi, Espinosa came up with the bases loaded. Just have a good at-bat, he told himself. He crushed a 1-0, 93-mph fastball into the first row in the upper deck hanging over the Nationals' bullpen.

Espinosa flew around the bases. Teammates engulfed him on the top steps of the dugout. Rodriguez pounded his back and him forced back onto the field.

"That moment, you cannot miss," Rodriguez said. "You've got to enjoy that moment."

Espinosa doffed his helmet, a curtain call in his first home game.

"That's the last thing I could have ever expected," Espinosa said. "It was awesome. It was just a huge rush, a whole bunch of adrenaline going through my body. I was so excited."

Espinosa's explosion led the Nationals' latest offensive outburst. For the third straight day, oddly, the Nationals batted around and scored five runs in the fourth inning. They have scored 85 runs in their past 11 games, the highest output over an 11-game span since baseball returned to Washington. During the span - which, remarkably, includes a shutout loss - the Nationals are 7-4.

Scott Olsen pitched four no-hit innings of relief for the win. Jordan Zimmermann started, which added to the day's promise. He allowed three runs - just one earned - in four innings while pitching around an error by Espinosa at shortstop.

Zimmermann's third outing since returning from Tommy John surgery and Espinosa's ridiculous start underscored the significance to the final month. Shortstop Ian Desmond is on a tear at the end of his rookie season. Catcher Wilson Ramos will share time with Ivan Rodriguez. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, 25, is one of the best players in baseball. A blowout victory could let the Nationals appreciate their future starting to take shape.

"It's one of those days where you feel really good about the direction of the organization." Riggleman said. "It's a good day. It's a statement for the organization that there is light at the end of the tunnel."

Said Zimmerman: "For the past few years, we've been hearing about all these guys. To have actually have them up here performing, it's good."

No one performed better than Espinosa, whom the Nationals drafted in the third round out of Long Beach State in 2008. He began this season at Class AA Harrisburg, hoping he'd receive a call-up, that his dream would come true. After he made adjustments midseason, staying more patient with his swing, his season took off. He was promoted first to Class AAA Syracuse, then to the majors.

"That was always his dream," Dan Espinosa said. "He just kept going."

In the third grade, Espinosa wrote a report about how he wanted to grow up to be a professional baseball player. He played youth tournaments all over the world - Arkansas, Florida, Taiwan, Brazil - and his parents followed him everywhere.

On Monday, his family followed to Washington. "This," Dan Espinosa said, "has been the ultimate trip."

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