Desmond delivers for Nats

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Sports,Nationals,Kevin Dunleavy

On another spectacular night for Harper, Desmond snaps losing streak with walk-off HR

Rock music, rap, country, and punk blasted through the Washington Nationals locker room Wednesday night in celebration of a walk-off home run, a 19-year-old sensation, the end of a losing streak, and the prospect of a transformational summer in D.C.

With one violent swing of the bat by shortstop Ian Desmond, who blasted a two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Nationals ended their five-game losing streak in most dramatic fashion, a 5-4 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“Just what we needed, at the right time,” Desmond said. “Personally it was awesome, for the team, even better.”

For much of the night, the perplexed Nats appeared destined to waste another brilliant game by rookie Bryce Harper (3-for-4), who led off the ninth inning with his second double of the game off the scoreboard in right-center. Veteran closer J.J. Putz threw strike three past Wilson Ramos and pinch-hitter Rick Ankiel. But on a 1-1 offering, Desmond turned on a 93 mph waist-high fastball, which he slammed to left-center, into the Arizona bullpen, sending 16,274 fans home delirious.

“I was calm, looking for a pitch in the zone. Thank you,” Desmond said. “I never hit high home runs so I was a little worried. Fortunately I got enough of it.”

The blast, Desmond’s third this season, made a winner of reliever Henry Rodriguez (1-1). Edwin Jackson turned in six innings of solid but unlucky work, yielding two-out, run-scoring hits to Paul Goldschmidt and Ryan Roberts in his final inning, turning a one-run lead into a one-run deficit and putting Washington (15-9) on course for its sixth straight loss.

“Ian definitely erased a bitter taste out of my mouth coming out of that game,” Jackson said. “It was great to see it in the fashion we did it tonight. It was an all-around well-played game.”

The most impressive work, once again, was turned in by Harper, who now is hitting .385, and made a catch with his bare hand in center field after losing a ball in the lights.

“I was wondering if anyone saw that,” Harper said.

Harper brought the crowd to its feet twice in the fourth inning. His booming moon shot off the scoreboard in right-center, barely missed becoming the first home run of his major league career as he settled for an RBI double. Harper then scored the go-ahead run despite arriving at the plate long after the ball. Harper slapped it from the grasp of catcher Miguel Montero for a 3-2 lead.

It was the most inspirational game of the four Harper has played since he was called up from AAA Syracuse on Friday.

“He’s living up to the hype,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot of pressure on him right now. But it seems like he’s out there playing pressure free, having fun, playing the game. He’s why he is who he is.”

Afterward Nats manager Davey Johnson asked one of his assistants if it was too early to move Harper up in the order.

“He said nope,” Johnson said with a laugh.

The Nats had hoped to get Harper to the plate in the eighth inning. But after Steve Lombardozzi walked and Jayson Werth scratched out an infield single, Arizona lefty Craig Breslow coaxed a liner to right by Adam LaRoche, hit directly at Justin Upton, then whiffed pinch-hitter Jesus Flores and second baseman Danny Espinosa, leaving Harper on deck.

Leading off the ninth against the 35-year-old Putz, who had 45 saves last year, might have been a mismatch for Harper. But he got the pitch he was looking for.

“I knew that Putz was going to come in and challenge me,” Harper said. “I tried to look for a fastball up and that’s what I got and did what I did with it.”

Three batters later, Desmond delivered the biggest blow for the Nats so far this season.

“We needed it, no doubt about it,” Johnson said. “When guys aren’t swinging the bats like they know they could, they take [losses] harder.”

Wednesday night in the Nats’ locker room, however, those thoughts were distant as Green Day pumped through the speakers.

“It’s nice to have music in here and everyone kind of loosen up a little bit,” Desmond said. “The circumstances being as they are – a five-game losing streak, we’re down, everyone keeps asking all these questions, and obviously Bryce being here. He played a heck of a ball game. I’d hate to see a game like that go unnoticed. He played a great game. He kind of got the win.”

Notes: Craig Stammen pitched two scoreless innings of relief, lowering his ERA to 0.71 … The home run could have been Desmond’s second of the game. He led off the Nats’ first with a shot to right-center that slammed into the scoreboard, going for a double … West Springfield and Virginia Tech grad Joe Saunders (6.1 innings, two earned runs, six strikeouts) made a strong bid for his third win this year before Putz blew the save.

Kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kevin Dunleavy

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner