Danny Espinosa makes Nationals Park debut a memorable one

Danny Espinosa at Nats Park.jpgMichael Morse, Adam Dunn and Roger Bernadina stood at home plate waiting for Danny Espinosa to round the bases. Espinosa had just blasted a grand slam on a 1-0, 93 mph fastball to the first row of the second deck, right above the Nats bullpen, to give the Nats a 12-3 lead. Right as Espinosa touched home plate, the three of them turned around and started walking to the dugout without a word, hand shake or high five for Espinosa.

Welcome to the Majors, rookie. The silent treatment never felt so good. Espinosa couldn’t help but smile as he walked back to the dugout by himself looking up to the 20,224 fans on their feet.

Adam Dunn Michael Morse Roger Bernadina c.JPGBernadina was the first person to end the joke; he stopped on the first step of the dugout, turned around and patted Espinosa’s head. Espinosa was quickly engulfed by his teammates and the fans cheered for a curtain call.

It didn’t take Espinosa a long time to reach the summit of the dugout steps, he just needed a little help from his teammates to begin the journey–a handful of steps. Catcher Ivan Rodriguez pushed him on his way and before he knew it, he lifted his helmet and waved it over his head. On his way back down, he received a courtesy Brett Favre-like butt slap from Pudge. It is a Labor Day he will never forget.

“That was awesome,” Espinosa said. “It was the biggest rush. I could see my family. I saw all the fans. It was such a huge rush. I had a bunch of adrenaline going through my body. I was so excited.”

He has arrived. In his first game at Nationals Park and in just his fifth Major League game, he is staking his claim as an important piece of the Nats future. He finished his Nationals Park debut going 4-for-5 with two home runs and 6 RBI. His only out was a fly ball to left center that was almost a home run. He is just the sixth player this season to collect at least four hits, two home runs and six RBI in the same game. And according to the Elias Sports Bureau, since the Major Leagues began tracking RBI in 1920, Espinosa is the first player to have at least two home runs and six RBI in one of his first five games in the Major Leagues.

His performance ranks up there with a couple other memorable Nationals Park debuts. I don’t think anyone would argue that Ryan Zimmerman’s walk-off home run to open the park in 2008 and Stephen Strasburg’s 14 strikeout gem against the Pirates in June are the two most memorable moments during the short three year history of Nationals Park–they were also the two most-hyped games played at the park. Ian Desmond’s debut last season and Espinosa’s debut didn’t receive as much hype but they were memorable in the sense that the two showed fans the possibilities of their potentially prosperous future. Desmond went 2-for-4 with four RBI in his Major League debut but the most memorable part of that night was when he blast a 434 foot three-run home run to the Red Porch in center field.

“It’s still pretty close to the front of my brain,” Desmond said.

Espinosa’s debut at the Park will be in his head for a while too.

“That was just a great performance,” Manager Jim Riggleman said. “It was a special day for him. It was a great day. It’s a great compliment to our scouting and player development to bring those two guys [Espinosa and Desmond] along the way they have and get them ready to play in the Big Leagues.”

It is still early–just a year into Desmond’s career and five days into Espinosa’s–but the two of them are giving fans a glimpse of the Nats possible double-play combination at short and second. Desmond has been on a tear since July 27: he is second in the Majors with a .383 average (51-for-133) over that span and Espinosa is batting .563 (9-for-16) with three home runs and 10 RBI in his first five games.

“Those two guys right up the middle–nothing is cast in stone–but it’s encouraging that two good athletes can play there for a while,” Riggleman said.

It may only be five games into his Major League career, but Espinosa is giving the fans and his teammates something to cheer about, even if they pretend to ignore him.

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