Jose Lobaton's three-run, series-altering homer to lift the Nationals to an NLDS Game 2 victory over the Dodgers on Sunday wasn't just surprising because of the man who hit it, because it came from a backup catcher only playing due to an injury. The fact he swung from the right side was also unexpected, given just 16 percent of his at-bats this year were right-handed. But that's not why Lobaton's teammates and coaches, or why Lobaton himself was so shocked it left the park.
No, this particular afternoon at Nationals Park had an extra element to it that made what Lobaton pulled off such a remarkable feat. The wind was so strong it howled in the upper concourse. It swirled and turned towards home plate, pushing just about everything hit to left field back where it came from.
"I've never played a game here with the wind blowing in from left that hard. This game is crazy," veteran Jayson Werth, who has been playing games consistently at Nationals Park since it opened in 2008, said.
"I didn't think anybody could hit a home run out of left field today, the way that wind was blowing everything back," manager Dusty Baker said. "I mean, he had to hit it a ton."
Limited by a sore right ankle, which affected the push from his back leg, Lobaton spent much of his week hitting batting practice from the left side. He hadn't taken an in-game at-bat hitting righty in over a month.
Yet, somehow he got the ball in the air with enough zip to defy what the rest of his team had accepted as a temporary law of nature, that nothing hit that way was going out, no matter how powerful the source.
"When he hit it, there was a bunch of people in the dugout were cussing because we didn't think he could get it out. All kinds of expletives were being thrown around," Werth said.
Then, it kept going.
"I know he hit it good," first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "But every ball that was going to left was getting hit down. [Dodgers left fielder Andrew] Toles, he just kept going back and going back and I was like 'maybe it's got a chance.'"
Lobaton sprinted to first base initially, watching the ball continue to carry. He watched the ball. He kept his eye on Toles.
"I remember the inning before, I was talking to the umpire and I told him 'wow, that wind is really bad for hitters now,'" Lobaton said. "Then, when I hit the ball, I thought I hit it good but I didn't know if it was going to go out. When it went out, I was like 'wow, that's pretty cool!'"
"If Mother Nature wanted to keep it in the yard, I guess she would have," outfielder Bryce Harper said. "But the baseball gods overran her, I guess."
By clearing the fence, Lobaton gave the Nationals their first lead of the NLDS, a 3-2 advantage they would build on in their 5-2 win. It was perfectly-timed lift that flipped the game's momentum in the Nationals' favor.
It also came from a spot that was supposed to be for Wilson Ramos, the team's All-Star catcher that went down in the final week of the regular season with a torn right ACL.
"I love [Ramos] as a friend," Lobaton said. "But it's part of the game… "We don't have Wily. I've got to try to do something for the team. I'm not saying that I'm going to be like Wily and hit a homer and hit .300, but I'm going to do something."
"I'm just so happy for Loby, man," Zimmerman said. "He really deserves it. Wily was obviously having a great year and he didn't get to play that much. He stays ready, he works hard every day. Now he's got an opportunity."
Lobaton followed up a strong outing for fellow catcher Pedro Severino in Game 1. The rookie backstop doubled and scored in the Nats' series-opening loss on Friday. The two are a combined 2-for-7 with a double, homer, three RBI and two runs. They have also worked with the Nationals' pitching staff to hold the Dodgers to just six total runs through two games.
Baker has two catchers who are proving capable as Ramos replacements. But it looks like Lobaton will stay in there for Game 3 on Monday, set for 4:08 p.m. ET in Los Angeles.
"He'll probably be starting against [Kenta] Maeda and catching Gio [Gonzalez] tomorrow," Baker said. "Boy, just keep it coming."
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