With the Nationals and Braves locked in a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the seventh on Sunday, Nats shortstop Ian Desmond walked to the plate looking to swing big on the first pitch. After allowing three straight hits to begin the game, Braves starter Alex Wood had settled in to dominate the Nationals for five consecutive frames.
Desmond saw a 87 mile per hour fastball slightly inside and got just about all of it, sending the ball deep into the left field stands for a solo home run. It was the first pitch of the inning, and Desmond knew it was gone immediately. He flipped his bat as the ball soared nearly out onto the concourse, falling short by just six or seven rows.
"Yeah, I was pretty sure I got it," Desmond said. "Fastball in, a little bit up, just connected on it. It was good. We needed that one. Not necessarily a home run, but we needed to score a run there and prove to ourselves we could hold it down."
"I knew right when it left my hand that it wasn’t going to be a very good outcome," Wood said.
Desmond gave Washington the go-ahead run in what ended as a 2-1 win for the Nationals. They avoided the sweep and salvaged the first series between the two teams of the season.
The Nationals were in danger of dropping the first three games against a team that went 13-6 against them in 19 matchups in 2013. The Nats know they will have to do better against the Braves this time around to have a chance at retaking the division crown.
"We played good. It was nice to get that W, get the monkey off our back," Desmond said. "We obviously understand that we have some things that have to be addressed when we’re playing them, but we’re going to continue to get better and we’ll see how it shakes out the rest of the way."
Desmond had the big hit on a day he also had other things on his mind. The 28-year-old is currently trying to quit dipping smokeless tobacco, a habit he started as a teenager. Desmond has been working on quitting since December, he said, but relapsed recently and now has his mother adamantly supporting him in the effort.
"This morning I had this huge battle. I’m trying to quit dipping, so I texted my mom and everybody and they were all like ‘You can do it, you can do it,’ so they were all praying for me and I made it through the whole game without dip so that was a bigger victory than beating the Braves. I’ve dipped for a long time and I’m really trying hard to quit, so thank you for all those out there that supported me today."
Desmond said he is quitting for himself, that there was no specific event that convinced him to give it up.
"Nothing forced me, I kind of just decided it was time. It’s not going to be easy. I’ve been doing it for a long time, it’s a terrible habit, but I’m working on it."
Chewing or dipping tobacco is commonplace in professional baseball, as many players and coaches have been using it for decades. Growing up around the game exposed Desmond to the habit, and he says that makes it even harder to quit.
"I hate to say this because I know there will probably be kids that hear this, but for me growing up it was part of the game. That’s what it was. When I put my uniform on, I feel like that’s part of what I need to put on and whether people see that as good or bad, it’s just like I’m sure steelworkers or whatever, it just goes with the job for me. But I’m trying to shake it off."
Desmond said he told his mom in the morning before the game he was having a hard time quitting, that he had dipped again recently. She helped him abstain on Sunday with encouragement.
"It’s not something I’m proud of, that it’s got that control over me, but I’m going to try," he said.