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Yunel Escobar's walk-off lifts Nationals in series-opener with Cardinals

Yunel Escobar returned to the lineup last night after missing two games with a groin issue and hit a walk-off winner in the home-half of the tenth after the Nationals blew a 1-0 lead over the Cardinals in the top of the ninth. Matt Williams on Yuni and more...

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

After Drew Storen's blown save and before Yunel Escobar's walk-off winner, the Washington Nationals had a chance to take the series-opener with the St. Louis Cardinals in the home-half of the ninth inning.

Danny Espinosa and Dan Uggla took back-to-back one-out walks from Cards' reliever Matt Belisle, and after right-hander Jordan Walden came on in relief, Denard Span battled the right-hander and eventually sent a grounder to first that Matt Adams misplayed.

"He got a fastball out over to hit... Yuni figured he was going to try to get ahead of him so he jumped on the first one." -Matt Williams on Yunel Escobar's walk-off winner

The error loaded the bases in front of Ian Desmond, who K'd swinging trying to put one on Half St., and then Jayson Werth stepped up and hit a line drive to center... that Jon Jay somehow caught with a game-saving diving grab.

Jay did it again with one out in the bottom of the tenth, taking a one-out hit away from Ryan Zimmerman with a slick sliding catch on another liner to center.

One pitch later, however, the game was over after Yunel Escobar hit a 380 foot home run into the left field bullpen off Carlos Villanueva to give the Nationals a 2-1 win.

"He got a fastball out over to hit," Matt Williams told reporters after the game. "Zim hit a line drive to center in his at bat, and Yuni figured [Villanueva] was going to try to get ahead of him so he jumped on the first one."

No one was catching Escobar's blast.

The Cardinals did make it hard on the Nats with solid defense, with the notable exception of Matt Adams at first.

Williams was asked about his squad getting BABIP'd before Escobar's walk-off winner.

"That's why they have gloves on," he said.

"They're pretty good players. They're a good team. They don't beat themselves. They make plays like that to keep them in ballgames.

"Jayson hit his ball hard. Zim hit his ball hard. You can't steer it once you hit it, all you can do is hit it. So, nice swing by Yunel."

"Jayson hit his ball hard. Zim hit his ball hard. You can't steer it once you hit it, all you can do is hit it." -Williams on the Nats getting BABIP'd before Escobar's blast

That swing, Williams said, was definitely a home run swing, but it was the right one for the situation.

"It's a different part of the game," Williams said. "His first at bat he really stayed inside of the baseball and hit it to first. So he understands the game and what to do. Good situational hitter.

"In that situation he wants to drive a baseball and get on second base. He wants to hit a double and get in scoring position and he got it elevated. So he just understands how to hit and the situation to hit in."

Escobar also understands how to celebrate in that situation.

The Nationals' 32-year-old infielder rounded the bases after his walk-off and slid headfirst into home while his teammates surrounded the plate and waited.

Did Williams see the slide? "I did not," he said.

Escobar returned to the lineup from two days off to rest his groin after an issue during last Friday night's game forced him to sit out the second and third of three with the Phillies.

He showed no signs of a problem, however, and after a 1 for 5 night at the plate, the veteran infielder is 13 for 47 so far this season (.277/.346/.447) with two doubles and two home runs in 12 games.

So what has the infielder, acquired in a 1-for-1 trade for Tyler Clippard this winter, brought to the Nationals?

"Stability," Williams said. "In more ways than one."

"You look at tonight, he sells out and moves a baserunner in an important situation. He's played second, he's played third. He would play anywhere we'd ask him to. And he understands the game.

"He understands when to take a chance and when we need just a base hit and in that situation he took a chance on getting a fastball and got it and hit it to his pull side. He got it elevated and got it over the fence, but he just understands situations. And it's calm and it's collected. And he's a good hitter, he's a good fielder. Does a lot of things well for us and he came out of tonight healthy, which is a good sign for us."