ATLANTA — Ever since spring training, Washington Nationals Manager Dusty Baker has been trying to get Clint Robinson to smile. “Big boy,” as Baker calls him, is almost always serious, a relentless worker who tends not to joke around, save a little sarcasm now and then. After nearly a decade in the minors, Robinson is too determined to stick around to relax.
Robinson did not crack a smile Friday night when he rapped a two-out single through the left side to give the Nationals a one-run lead in the ninth after a five-run lead slipped sloppily away in the eighth. He did not laugh about the hole in the back of his pants, which he hadn’t had time to replace because the game sped up late: The Braves staged a comeback thanks to two eighth-inning errors from the normally reliable left side of the Nationals infield and a game-tying swing from Freddie Freeman.
Instead of a more pronounced celebration, Robinson just clapped his hands following his single and retreated to first, where he celebrated the last out of a 7-6 win a half-inning later with a fist pump.
Robinson saved the Nationals, who are now a season-best 23 games over .500. The team will probably activate first baseman Ryan Zimmerman tomorrow, meaning Robinson’s chances will continue to be limited. But with hits in 14 of his past 19 starts, RBI in 10 of his past 19, and four go-ahead RBI, Robinson has proven himself capable.
“He’s going to come up big. Everybody here’s going to come up big,” Baker said. “Like I told you in spring training, we’re going to need all 40-man roster guys, which we have, and they’ve all contributed.”
Another contributor Friday was Ben Revere, who made what may have been the best catch by a Nationals player all season when he robbed Freeman of a home run in the fourth. Tanner Roark tossed 61/3 innings and allowed three runs on four hits, another strong outing that left him with the lowest ERA (2.87) of any Nationals starter. Trea Turner added three hits. Wilson Ramos chipped in two.
The Nationals took a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth – one that might have been 5-1 if it weren’t for Revere. As Revere pulled the ball back and fell to the turf, Bryce Harper bent over, as if to bow to the catch.
“I didn’t think he got it. I thought it was a home run,” Roark said. “Then Bryce was on his knees like, ‘Holy cow!’ . . . And I was doing the same thing.’
Robinson hit a ball to deep right in the fifth inning, one Nick Markakis pulled back to return the favor. The Nationals scored two runs that inning, then two more in the sixth, a rally during which Robinson tore the back of his pants while sliding home after one of his two walks.
“I caught a little draft there so I figured it out,” Robinson said afterward, with a straight face, of course. “Then when the lady behind the first-base on deck circle told me I had nice spanx.”
The Nationals carried a three-run lead to the eighth, in which Baker chose Matt Belisle because normal set-up man Shawn Kelley had worked two days in a row. After a leadoff double, normally sure-handed Danny Espinosa had trouble with a bounding ball up the middle that took a late hop. The error gave the Braves runners at first and third. Then Ender Inciarte grounded to Robinson, who got the force out at second in exchange for a run. Inciarte stood on first with one out and the Nationals leading by two.
Baker then chose rookie Koda Glover to pitch to the heart of the Braves order. Glover got pinch hitter Jeff Francoeur to ground weakly to third, where Anthony Rendon might have taken the safe out at first base, but chose to shoot for second instead. He missed wide, putting runners on the corners for Freeman, who hit the first fastball Glover threw for a game-tying double. Glover recovered and got out of the inning, which kept the game tied to the ninth. Because of Robinson’s hit and Mark Melancon’s save, that outing turned into Glover’s first career win.
“That’s definitely not the way you want to get it,” Glover said. “But I’ll take it when I can get it.”
Ramos led off the ninth with a single, and Baker pinch ran Pedro Severino. With Severino in motion, Jayson Werth chopped a ground ball to third that kept the inning alive, though his 46-game on-base streak died with an 0 for 5 night. Rendon walked. Robinson singled home Severino.
“It’s fun,” said Robinson, before turning practical. “As a bench guy, you get limited opportunities. To justify your spot on the team, you have to come up in big situations sometimes, and instill confidence in the manager that you can get it done when your number is called.”
Baker has said all season he has plenty of confidence in Robinson. He just wants him to smile and enjoy it all now and then.