NEW YORK — Michael A. Taylor’s father had called him five times Saturday night, even though he had nothing new to say. The news had spread that Taylor would arrive in the major leagues the next day. Taylor only kept hearing from his father, “I’m so proud of you.”
Anthony Taylor, a logistics officer for 22 years in the U.S. Army, called his son again late Tuesday afternoon from his home in Florida. The entire weekend had felt surreal, and now he discovered Taylor would be in the Washington Nationals’ lineup. He hoped his kid would stay calm. “It’s just like a Double A game,” Anthony Taylor told him. “Trust in God, and the game will take care of itself.”
On television, Anthony watched Taylor trot to right field at Citi Field to make his major league debut in the Nationals’ 7-1 victory over the New York Mets. He saw Taylor walk to the plate and roll a single up the middle in his first career plate appearance. And he watched in the sixth inning as Taylor pounded Carlos Torres’s fastball through the driving wind and over the right field fence, his first major league home run in his first major league game.
“It was incredible,” Anthony Taylor said. “He worked so long, and he worked so hard. For him to perform like that, it was incredible.”
The Nationals had much to celebrate Tuesday night. They finished a season-high five games ahead of the Braves, who lost to the Dodgers in Atlanta. Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond joined Taylor in hitting home runs, giving the Nationals their third four-homer game this year. The Nationals won for the 23rd time in their last 27 games at Citi Field. Doug Fister further cemented himself as the Nationals’ ace with seven breezy, scoreless innings that improved his record to 12-3 and lowered his ERA to 2.34.
“Doug throws what he wants, when he wants, where he wants,” Mets Manager Terry Collins said.
But Taylor’s powerful, 2-for-4 debut stood out for what it meant to both him and the organization. Afterward, his phone held 50 text messages and buzzed with more incoming. Meanwhile, General Manager Mike Rizzo called Brian Daubauch, Taylor’s minor league manager the past four years, and congratulated him.
“It’s a great day for the organization,” Rizzo said. “Scouting, player development — it’s huge.”
When the season began, Taylor reported to Class AA Harrisburg after two years at Class A Potomac. They hoped he’d take a step closer to the majors. Tuesday, after the first at-bat of his career, Taylor stood on first base after his single.
“I was kind of numb out there,” Taylor said. “I wasn’t really thinking about much after that. I definitely kind of slowed it down a little later, was able to enjoy it a little more.”
In spring training, Taylor remained a tantalizing talent whose gifts had yet to crystalize. The Nationals put him on the 40-man roster, still waiting for his bat to catch up with his stellar defense. They believed Taylor’s work ethic would allow his skills to blossom. He took extra swings whenever he could. Teammates adored him. He called coaches and officials “sir,” a remnant from his military upbringing.
“He’s a real coachable kid,” Anthony Taylor said. “He’s very intense. He listens.”
At 23, it clicked. In 98 games with Harrisburg, Taylor hit 22 homers and slugged .539. He started in center field at the MLB Futures Game. Last month, MLB.com named him one of the top 100 prospects in the sport. His improvement happened more rapidly than the Nationals expected.
“It’s a breakout season for him, I’ll put it that way,” Rizzo said.
The Nationals promoted Taylor to Class AAA Syracuse last week, when Nate McLouth’s shoulder injury forced him to the disabled list and they called up Steven Souza from Syracuse. Once Souza slammed into the wall in Atlanta on Friday, the Nationals summoned Taylor to take Souza’s roster spot again, this time in the majors.
On Tuesday, Jayson Werth visited a doctor for more tests on his inflamed right shoulder. Manager Matt Williams wrote Taylor’s name into the lineup, batting eighth and playing right field. Taylor tried to listen to his father’s advice and conceal his nerves. But he felt them.
“A little bit,” Taylor said. “I’ll be honest.”
When Taylor walked to the plate in the sixth inning, for his third at-bat, the Nationals had already decided the outcome. Rendon and Desmond had both smashed lasers over the left field fence earlier in the inning, putting the Nationals ahead, 5-0. With Fister cruising, the lead felt insurmountable. Wilson Ramos had singled and stood on first.
Torres fired Taylor a 2-1, 93-mph fastball at the letters and over the outside corner. Taylor crushed it to right field. “I thought it was actually going to be caught,” Taylor said. But the smash carved through the wind whipping out toward left. Curtis Granderson sprinted to the track. He watched the ball clear the fence.
In Florida, sitting next to two of his daughters, Anthony Taylor jumped up and down on his couch. “I called everyone,” he said.
In the dugout, Rendon immediately began signaling to the fans in right field to throw the ball back into the field. Later, it would rest in his locker, marked “1st ML HR” in black Sharpie.
As Taylor crossed the plate, Fister greeted him. “That easy, huh?” Fister asked Taylor.
The Nationals led 7-0, and the only drama that remained was whether Denard Span could stretch his on-base streak to 37 games. Span finished 0 for 5, failing to reach for the first time since June 28. Span tapped back to lefty reliever Dana Eveland in the ninth inning, his final at-bat. On his way back to the dugout, Rendon bumped his fist and tapped him on the leg. Every teammate lined up to congratulate him.
Those teammates included Taylor. In the clubhouse, he stood at his locker in full uniform as reporters crowded around. His phone kept buzzing. When he walked out of the clubhouse, Rizzo greeted him with a fist bump and said, “there he is.” Taylor smiled.
“Definitely better than I imagined,” Taylor said.
In Florida, Anthony Taylor kept texting family members about what his son had just done. “We were all very proud,” he said.
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