When the complete story of the 2021 Washington Nationals season is written, the chapter on Alcides Escobar is bound to be longer than it is right now, but it’s not too soon measure his contributions to the team.
Escobar’s first home run as a National couldn’t have come at a better time than the eighth inning of Sunday’s 8-7 win over San Diego. It kicked off an inning-and-a-half of baseball that showed why the Nats will remain contenders for the National League East title the rest of the season.
That inning-and-a half-ended when another ball off Escobar’s bat drove in a long-awaited wining run.
“Ever since the first moment that I got to this team, I was willing to do anything it took to help the team win,” he told reporters after the game. “So far, it’s been working out.”
The Padres had welcomed Daniel Hudson to his first All-Star-break appearance with a two-run eighth that put them ahead 6-4 and left the Nats on the brink of a second straight series sweep and a seventh consecutive loss.
Escobar was 0-for-3 when he stepped to the plate to lead off the eighth, but he wasn’t nearly finished after playing a key role in each of the team’s victories in a little more than two weeks since the Nationals acquired him from the Kansas City Royals.
His two at-bats that would change the course of this game had yet to unfold.
“In that particular at bat I was trying to just make solid contact with a pitch I could drive out and I was fortunate enough to make good contact and elevate it enough,” said Escobar, who’s never hit more than seven home runs in 11 big league seasons.
“So as soon as I hit it, I knew I had a chance, so it was a great moment to see it go out of the ballpark.”
It was Escobar’s first major league home run since Aug, 11 2018 with Kansas City.
Escobar was a key cog in the Royals’ 2015 World Series championship, with an All-Star appearance, a Gold Glove and the MVP award in the American League Championship series.
But the Royals released him two years later after becoming dissatisfied with his low on-base percentage and propensity for strikeouts. He was released following the 2018 season, played the 2019 season in the Chicago White Sox’ minor league system, and spent the 2020 season in Japan.
The Royals signed him to a minor league deal this season and kept him in Class AAA before sending him to the Nats in exchange for cash.
Since Escobar arrived in Washington July 3, he has driven in seven runs and scored seven on three doubles and a triple among his 16 hits.
He was 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs, including an eighth-inning ground rule double, in the Nats’ 7-5 win over the Padres on July 5.
Two days later, he scored a pair of runs in the Nats’ 15-5 victory over the Padres, to complete a five-game stretch where he went 8-for-21.
“When he stays on the ball, uses the whole field, he can hit the ball to right-center field like he did,” said manager Davey Martinez after Sunday’s game.
His homer in the eighth inning Sunday pulled the Nats within a run at 6-5, and two batters later, Juan Soto gave the Nats the lead with a two-run homer, his third in the three-game series.
After the Padres tied the game in the top of the ninth, Escobar was not due to hit until fourth, but when Tres Barrera collected his fifth hit as a National with one out and Victor Robles was hit by a pitch, Escobar would have a chance for his first walk-off hit in a Nats’ uniform.
“In that particular at bat to end the game, I was facing [Mark] Melancon, who throws a lot of cutters and a curveball,” Escobar said. “I was actually sitting on the breaking pitch, but when he got ahead two strikes, I was just looking for a pitch in the zone that I could make solid contact with.”
He got a cut fastball, right over the middle of the plate, and drove the ball to deep center.
Despite the power Escobar had shown in his previous plate appearance, the Padres were playing him shallow. and Trent Grisham had too far to run. The ball bounded off the warning track, and as Barrera raced home from second with the winning run, Escobar’s teammates mobbed him after he touched first base.
“I felt great along with the team,” he said. “Especially after falling a few times and having a few defeats in a row, to come back like that it was a great moment for all of us.”
“Alcides is playing excellent baseball for us,” Max Scherzer said after starting, but receiving no decision in the win, “and he came up with a solo shot and a game-winning hit, and that’s what it takes to win, it takes everybody to win and he’s been a huge help for us.”