Monday, October 8, 2012

The Nats Win, By Hook or By Rooks

By Jeff Kallman

Bryce Harper might be the overwhelming Rookie of the Year winner when the hardware voting is revealed in due course, but he's not the only Washington Nationals rookie with a talent for coming up powerfully enough when the game gets late and his Nats need a thrust. Tyler Moore, in Game 1 of the National League division series, anyway, seems rather capable of doing that himself.

So does Ryan Mattheus, a rookie among the Nat's bullpen bulls, even if you feed him to two of the St. Louis Cardinals' most carnivorous of vultures with men in scoring position.

Moore was sent out in the Washington eighth to pinch hit for Chad Tracy — himself a pinch hitter for Mattheus, until St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny brought in Mark Rzepczynski to relieve Mitchell Boggs. He reached for a 2-2 fastball tailing away, cued it on a loft to fall onto the right field grass, sending Michael Morse (aboard on Cardinal rookie Pete Kozma's miscue at shortstop) and Ian Desmond (a clean single to right) home for the first and only lead the Nats would need, 3-2.

"I was jumping up and down for him, going crazy," Harper said.

There are those who think postseason experience is a matter of perspective, that sometimes if you haven't been there before you know little enough about its magnitude that you get a job done without blinking even once.

Until Moore's cue shot, Mattheus looked like the rookie of the game just a half inning earlier. Brought in to spell Craig Stammen after the latter loaded the pads by plunking Matt Holliday with nobody out, the Nats began to look just a little overmatched by the defending world champions, no matter how tight the score ... and with Allen Craig looming at the plate for openers.

Craig, the National League's leader in batting with men in scoring position on the season — with a .400 average in that scenario. Behind him, St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina — who hit a none too shabby .321 in the same scenario on the season. Think they weren't dreaming of the RBIs they were about to pile up on the rookie right-hander?

Two pitches, and Mattheus squeezed the Nats out of that jam post haste. He got Craig to swat one to shortstop, from where Desmond fired a bullet to the plate to bag Jon Jay, who'd been aboard on an error at first. Then, he got Molina, who's also hit into more bases-loaded double plays than any man in baseball since he premiered in 2004, to do just that.

This on a day Gio Gonzalez was just wild enough to hand out seven passes while keeping the Cardinals to a single hit, David Freese's 3-2 hopper through the hole at shortstop. Just wild enough that the Redbirds scored their first two runs without a hit, in the second inning, after the Nats took the 1-0 lead on Kurt Suzuki's two-out single to left.

Bad enough that Gonzalez walked the bases loaded with one out, but his wild pitch while working on and walking Adam Wainwright let Molina come home before Jon Jay sent Daniel Descalso home with a sacrifice fly.

Wainwright spent his day becoming the first St. Louis pitcher to ring up double-digit punchouts since Bob Gibson in the 1968 World Series. Until he handed Suzuki a two-out pass with Morse aboard in the sixth, Wainwright had landed 10 punchouts, spread 6 hits, walked only 3, and left the Nats looking foolish often enough.

The Nats loaded the bases on Wainwright in the second and his immediate relief Lance Lynn in the sixth and cashed in nothing. The only reason the score wasn't worse than 2-1, Cardinals by the time the eighth inning came around was Jayson Werth, who ran down what was supposed to be Descalso's 2-run bomb in the sixth and jumped over the wall to bring it back for the out.

Descalso got even, though. In the seventh he lunged as far left as he could to the hole at second, snatching a dead-certain leadoff base hit from Harper, rolling up swiftly to throw Harper out by mere steps.

Shame he couldn't throw out the second-guessing. Cardinal manager Mike Matheny got outmaneuvered by Nats manager Davey Johnson in that eighth. When Johnson sent the left-handed Tracy to face the right-hander Boggs, Matheny brought in Rzepczynski — the only left-hander among his bulls, but a slightly lesser pitcher than Boggs this year. He must have forgotten the Nats' bench depth at any age. Johnson didn't hesitate calling Tracy back and sending Moore out.

Google "Tyler Moore" and the first biographical result that comes up is "Mary Tyler Moore." But it wasn't her who turned Washington on into smiles Sunday.

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