As Danny Espinosa hopped up on the top step of the dugout for his second curtain call of the night, there may not have been a more fitting — and unlikely — image to punctuate what was perhaps the best month of his career.
By now, many thought the Nationals' 29-year-old shortstop would have been supplanted by the much ballyhooed Trea Turner, considered the organization's top infield prospect. And yet here was Espinosa, putting a stamp on a monster June with a two-homer, 7 RBI performance in Thursday night's 13-4 drubbing of the Cincinnati Reds.
"There were people calling for Danny's job earlier," Dusty Baker said. "It's a long season. Guys learn, guys get better with instruction."
Indeed, during Espinosa's nadir in May, when his batting average dipped to .176, there was a loud clamoring from fans to see Turner promoted to the big club. But since hitting .309 in June with nine home runs and 21 RBIs, there hasn't been a lot of talk lately about getting him out of the lineup.
"Everybody's calling for the next new guy," Baker said.
Espinosa's sudden turnaround at the plate is not just a testament to his ability — remember, he was once a top prospect himself — but it's also a display of the belief he's earned from his teammates over the years.
"The talent’s always been there," said Ryan Zimmerman, who has played with Espinosa since 2010.
After being a part-time player the last two seasons, 2016 represented Espinosa's first chance at being in the everyday lineup at his natural position at short. And while some viewed his time patrolling the six-hole as merely a countdown to Turner's arrival, the switch-hitting infielder had other plans.
“[I] just continued to have trust in myself," Espinosa said. "To know I could do it. To have the staff behind me ...to have all my teammates behind me encouraging me. It means a lot as a player."
"In Danny we trust, man," Gio Gonzalez said. "No one gave up on Danny."
After Thursday night's big performance, Espinosa is second on the team to Bryce Harper with 15 home runs, and is now just six long balls away from setting a new single-season high he set in 2011.
Oh, and as for that Turner guy? The Nats revealed earlier this week that they're trying him out at centerfield in the minors — a sure sign that the incumbent isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
"He's coming with vengeance now," Gonzalez said. "He's just a guy [that's] a force to be reckoned with right now. You can it in his swing, you can see his approach in the batters box. He just looks like a stone cold killer up there."