(FOX)–Heading toward a throng of excited Washington Nationals teammates after his first game-ending homer in four years, Yunel Escobar jumped head-first toward the plate.
“He’s got life to him. Teammates love him here,” Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez said afterward. “He’s just a different ballplayer.”
Returning to the lineup after sitting out two games with a groin injury, Escobar drove an 89 mph fastball from former teammate Carlos Villanueva to left with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning, lifting the Nationals to a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night.
It was the second homer of 2015 for Escobar, acquired this offseason in the deal that sent setup man Tyler Clippard to Oakland. Escobar was supposed to be Washington’s starting second baseman but has been filling in at third while Anthony Rendon is on the disabled list.
“He would play anywhere we ask him to,” manager Matt Williams said.
Escobar went to the plate looking for a fastball from Villanueva (1-1), the seventh pitcher for the Cardinals – and that’s just what he got.
“He ambushed me,” said Villanueva, who was on the Toronto Blue Jays with Escobar in 2011-12.
Villanueva hadn’t pitched since April 12 against Cincinnati.
“I don’t see that being a factor,” he said.
The Nationals have won five of six games to get back to .500 after starting the year 2-6. They ended the Cardinals’ five-game winning streak.
After Gonzalez managed to keep the Cardinals off the scoreboard despite giving up eight hits and four walks in six innings, Aaron Barrett (2-0) earned the win by pitching the 10th. He worked around a leadoff single and stolen base by Pete Kozma – forever associated around these parts with the Cardinals’ 2012 NL Division Series Game 5 comeback.
Thanks to Bryce Harper’s RBI single in the third – when he also wound up getting doubled off base on an appeal – the Nationals led 1-0 heading into the ninth inning, when closer Drew Storen blew the save. Matt Holliday tied the game with an RBI single, making him 4 for 4, extending his hitting streak to 12 games.
In the clubhouse later, Escobar used his phone to snap a photo of a baseball inscribed with “Walk off HR” – the third of his career but first since April 2011.
The Cuban said he never before had employed his unusual head-first celebration, explaining through a translator: “I’m just trying to have fun.”