“I had a feeling that it was going to be a little bit off — just a little bit — but I was able to get it straight down [the middle],” Dargin told me during the game, adding that he wasn’t the least bit nervous. I asked him who his favorite player was and expected he would say Bryce Harper or maybe Stephen Strasburg. But no, it was Taylor, whom Dargin had met the previous season when he was invited to shout “Play ball” atop the Nationals’ dugout before a game.
“He’s a Black player, and usually Black players don’t play baseball,” explained Dargin, who is also Black. “I want to play for the Nationals, and he plays for the Nationals, and that motivates me even more to play baseball.”
Taylor leaves a mixed legacy on the field in D.C., where he earned the nickname Michael K. Taylor with a portion of the fan base for his propensity to strike out. But he also demonstrated a knack for coming through in the biggest spots. Here’s a chronological look at some of the best moments.
Aug. 12, 2014: Memorable introduction
“It’s more than I expected, and it’s a good day,” Taylor said after going 2 for 4 with a home run in his major league debut, a 7-1 win over the New York Mets at Citi Field.
Taylor singled off Mets starter Rafael Montero in the second inning and hit a two-run homer off reliever Carlos Torres in the sixth to cap his big day, becoming the third Nationals player to have at least two hits and a homer in his first big league game.
Aug. 13, 2014: Pranked
The day after his dazzling debut, Taylor’s teammates cut the back panel out of his batting practice cap, revealing his high-top fade. Perhaps they were worried the rookie’s head would get too big. Taylor went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and struggled for much of the rest of his first season. He finished the year with one home run, five RBI and a .205 average in 39 at-bats. In 2015, the Potomac Nationals celebrated Taylor’s debut and high-top fade with a bobblehead.
May 13, 2015: Improbable grand slam in the desert
With one out, the bases loaded and the Nationals trailing the Arizona Diamondbacks 6-5 in the ninth, Taylor came up to face closer Addison Reed in the cleanup spot. Taylor began the day on the bench but entered the game after Harper was ejected for arguing a strikeout in the seventh inning. In his first career plate appearance with the bases full, Taylor took Reed deep to center field, lifting the Nationals to a 9-6 win.
“Of course I want to be up there in that situation, but Mike … I guess I owe him a steak dinner,” Harper said. “He did what he did up there to get that [win]. Tipping my cap to Mikey, and I’m glad he came through for us.”
Sept. 8, 2017: Inside-the-park grand slam
Taylor had four hits and five RBI in Washington’s 11-10 win over the Philadelphia Phillies, including a 15-second dash around the bases for an inside-the-park grand slam after center fielder Odubel Herrera misjudged his line drive.
“Soon as it went over his head, I was thinking four right there,” said Taylor, who also benefited from catcher Jorge Alfaro’s inability to handle the relay throw to the plate.
It was the first inside-the-park grand slam in the majors since Philadelphia’s Aaron Altherr hit one Sept. 25, 2015, which was made possible by a misplay by Taylor.
“Oh, really?” Taylor, who committed his fair share of gaffes in the field, told reporters when informed of the coincidence. “Feels better to be on this side of it.”
Oct. 11, 2017: Keeping the Nationals alive
Taylor has a .237 batting average, .291 on-base percentage and .395 slugging percentage and has struck out in 31 percent of his plate appearances during the regular season. His strikeout rate is only a percentage point better in the postseason, but Taylor has an impressive .316/.395/.632 slash line with four home runs in 38 playoff at-bats.
With the Nationals clinging to a one-run lead against the Chicago Cubs in the eighth inning of a do-or-die Game 4 of the 2017 National League Division Series, Taylor provided needed insurance with the first postseason grand slam in team history.
“Honestly, I didn’t think it was going to get out,” Taylor said of his two-out, opposite field homer off Wade Davis that cut through the wind and just cleared the basket at Wrigley Field.
Oct. 12, 2017: Michael A. Tater
The next night, with “See You Later! Michael A. Tater” T-shirts fresh off the presses and available for sale at Nationals Park, Taylor did it again. His three-run homer off Kyle Hendricks in the second inning gave the Nationals a 4-1 lead over the Cubs in the deciding Game 5. The team’s first playoff series win was within reach.
If the Nationals didn’t go on to lose the game, 9-8, in heartbreaking and unbelievable fashion, Taylor’s heroics in the series would be remembered even more fondly.
Oct. 9, 2019: Series-clinching catch
Taylor made dozens of defensive gems in his career, including the time he robbed the Los Angeles Angels’ Juan Graterol of extra bases an inning after fouling a ball off his own face, but one of his more memorable catches sealed the Nationals’ first trip to the NL Championship Series.
After Howie Kendrick gave the Nationals the lead with a grand slam in the top of the 10th inning of Game 5 of last year’s NLDS at Dodger Stadium, Taylor came racing forward to make a diving grab of Justin Turner’s flyball to shallow center field for the final out of the game. As his teammates poured out of the dugout to celebrate, a smiling Taylor took the ball out of his glove and held it up, as if to say, “Anyone want this?”
Oct. 12, 2019: Solo shot in the NLCS
Taylor opened the scoring in Game 2 of the NLCS with a solo home run to left off St. Louis Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright. The Nationals went on to win, 3-1, and took a two-games-to-none lead back to D.C.
Oct. 23, 2019: World Series home run
Taylor had one plate appearance in the World Series, and he made the most of it, launching a solo home run off Houston Astros reliever Chris Devenski in the ninth inning of Game 2 to extend Washington’s lead to 12-2. If Taylor never makes it back to the World Series, he’ll retire with a perfect on-base-plus-slugging percentage of 5.000 and an unblemished strikeout rate on baseball’s biggest stage.
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