Uggla provides resounding response for boo birds
Nats infielder drives in 5, including winning HR, in former stadium; reflects fondly on time in Atlanta
ATLANTA -- It takes more than one mighty swing to erase the last couple of years for the Washington Nationals' Dan Uggla.
But a swing like Tuesday night's?
It's a start. It's a real nice start.
Uggla crushed an 0-2 pitch from Atlanta Braves closer Jason Grilli in the ninth inning Tuesday, shushing the boos from his former home crowd and propelling the Nationals to a 13-12 win over the Atlanta Braves. The monstrous three-run shot broke a six-game losing streak for the Nationals, too, and finished off a night in which Uggla, who entered the game hitting .135, had three hits, drove in five runs and scored two more.
"Somebody once told me a long time ago, they don't boo nobodies. It's pretty cool to get booed every once in a while," said Uggla, who was smothered in chocolate sauce in a raucous Washington clubhouse at Turner Field. "It's good to hear some boos and kinda do something good, and they kinda boo even harder after that."
For the Nationals, the big night couldn't have come at a better time, and it couldn't have come from a more needy source. Uggla, released by the Braves last year after a mostly miserable 3 1/2 years in Atlanta -- he hit just .209 in 499 games for the Braves -- has not had a great year since his first season in Atlanta, when he smacked 36 homers in 2011. He was released by the team last July (the Braves are still paying him nearly $13 million this season), stopped briefly in San Francisco last season and has been battling since being signed by the Nationals as a free agent in December.
Still, there have been signs that Uggla, like the Nationals, has been on the verge of breaking out. He had a triple in two at-bats on Monday after entering the game when third baseman Yunel Escobar was injured. He had another triple Tuesday, plating two runs, the second time in his career that he's had triples in back-to-back games.
And then, in the ninth, his 0-2 pitch off Grilli on a high fastball lit up the bench, throwing his teammates into a frenzy.
"I just looked at him, I didn't even say anything. I just looked straight in his eyes," said leadoff man Denard Span, who was walking into the on-deck circle as Uggla was on his way back to the dugout. "You guys can't write that any better than that. He's been through a lot the last few years. Good for him."
Said Uggla: "It was cool. This stadium, this place, is very special to me. I've had a lot of great memories here. Whatever the case is ... everyone knows the story how it's gone the last couple years. That doesn't take away from any of my good memories here.
"I love Atlanta. I love the fans here. I love everything about this place."
It's been a long slog for Uggla. But he likes the direction he's going.
"I feel a lot different," he said, chocolate sauce still smeared on his face. "I was hitting the ball OK early on in the season. Not great. But something clicked, and everything kind of synched up about a week ago. I was waiting on an opportunity to get back in there."
That chance came with Escobar's injury, and now it may be tough getting Uggla out of the lineup. The Nats hit only .189 as a team during their six-game losing streak. With Uggla starting Tuesday, Washington put up season bests in runs, hits (15) and home runs (three).
That kind of offensive output is not likely to hold up for the team. For Uggla, he's hoping it's just the start.