The man who much of baseball forgot hit a three-run homer against the Dodgers on Sunday a magic moment in a career that has otherwise been an anonymous grind
Nothing says baseball lifer like getting married at home plate on the morning before a game. There is something metaphorical about the backup catcher who loves the sport so much he walked the aisle in the batters box, as the Washington Nationals Jos Lobatn once did years ago when he played in Tampa Bay. Thats the passion that carries you on through years of sitting on the bench, playing on Sunday afternoons and the odd weeknight when the regular catcher needs a rest. The money is decent but not outlandish, the disappointments are many.
But then, at 31 years old, there comes a playoff like this National League Division Series, and an injury to the teams star catcher, Wilson Ramos, and suddenly everything turns to the backup catcher who much of baseball forgot, batting eighth where he can do the least damage. Nobody expects anything. They just hope he doesnt screw things up.
By the fourth inning of Sundays game two of the NLDS, Lobatn had indeed screwed up. He grounded into a bases- loaded double play in the second, and then dropped a throw from right fielder Bryce Harper that would have caught the Dodgers Justin Turner at the plate. With the Nats already down 2-0 in a series where they were about to go down 0-2, he felt pretty low indeed. Still, as a baseball lifer, hes been around long enough to know that things can change. This is the thing hes been trying to tell himself for years, the flaw hes worked hard to correct: dont dwell on the momentary failures there will always be another chance.
And so in the fourth, just one inning after the dropped throw from Harper, there came that chance. The Nationals had two men on base with two outs, and Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill tried to flick a curveball about chest-high, and Lobatn swung with all his might. The ball rose high into afternoon sun toward the left field fence. It climbed through a stiff wind that howled at around 20mph for much of the day. It cut through the gale in a way none of the other players imagined a ball could on Sunday. The Dodgers left fielder Andrew Toles first waited for the ball to die in the gusts, then realized it wouldnt. He got to the fence, prepared to jump, then didnt. The ball carried far over his head for a three-run home run.
Just like that, the lifetime backup from Venezuela who was only playing because the regular catcher was hurt, had hit the biggest home run of the Nationals postseason. Instead of being down 2-0 and about to go down 0-2 in a five-game series, Washington was ahead 3-2 and had life.
We needed that, Nats outfielder Jayson Werth later said.
What a feeling it must have been for Lobatn to circle the bases the way he did on Sunday, with 43,826 people cheering as he ran. After he touched home plate and was mobbed by his teammates he trotted to the dugout where the fans would not let him sit. They clapped and roared until he finally ran back up the steps and waved in return. How funny baseball is this way. One moment you are despondent over a double play and a dropped throw, the next you are waving to a sold-out crowd over a home run that changed the series.
Washington went on to win 5-2 and now flies to Los Angeles tied 1-1 with the Dodgers. Lobatn came back to the clubhouse, where he sat before the anonymous locker beside that of Harper, the teams star. He changed out of his uniform and into gym shorts and leggings, pulling on stars and stripes socks over the leggings. He laughed a lot at the idea of being the teams most important player in the most important game.
I think everybody [is] going to feel great now, he said. Thats what we want, do something good for the team so the team can get that little push that we need. And hopefully we did hat today.
He wondered if maybe he had hit the ball at an instant when the wind wasnt blowing as hard but it seemed like the wind was whipping between the buildings behind the left field stands really stiff all day. Sometimes great things happen if you forget about the bad ones. Everything in this game he loves is about living for the next moment regardless of what happens.
Later, his team-mate Daniel Murphy, the Nats second baseman, looked at the switch-hitting Lobatn, who usually hits left, and asked: When is the last time you hit right-handed in a game?
About a month and a half, Lobatn replied.
Thats just professional right there, Murphy said.
Lobatn has had another moment like Sundays. It came three years ago in Tampa, when he hit a ninth-inning home run to beat the Red Sox in game three of the ALDS. He hit it into the 10,000-gallon tank filled with swimming rays that is located behind Tropicana Fields center field fence. That was the year after he was married at home plate before a July home game.
Now he has a third highlight in a baseball life that has otherwise been an anonymous grind. He saved the Nats on Sunday. And here in Washington, they will never forget the windy day the forgotten catcher gave them an unforgettable afternoon.