Tyler Clippard had pitched in dozens and dozens of situations over the past two years more demanding and more crucial to victory than what he faced last night. When he entered in the ninth, the Nationals were leading by three, the bases were empty and he would face a pinch hitter, Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco. It was easy, to be honest.
But the situation made Clippard feel alive like few outings he has recently had. Earlier, he had said of the closer’s job, “I want it bad.” Now he had the opportunity.
“A lot more adrenaline, a lot more nervousness,” Clippard said. “But it was a good feeling. I haven’t had that for a while, so it was a lot of fun tonight.”
Clippard sat down Pete Orr, Pierre and Polanco in order, with a strikeout and two groundballs, after an initial scare. Orr smoked his very first pitch down the right field line, very nearly for a home run, but landed just foul. Clippard never blinked.
“It’s a three-run lead, and it was actually a good approach on his part, because he knows I’m going to go right after him early,” Clippard said. “Trying to get the first guy out is huge in those situations and luckily enough, he was just a little bit too out in front of it.”
Another different feeling came after the outing. He embraced catcher Jesus Flores and then joined a handshake line to celebrate a victory.
“Usually when I pitch the eighth, I just come to the clubhouse and we just do this,” Clippard said, miming a weak high five. “It’s a lot more fun out on the field.”
Clippard smiled as he talked, with the game ball, marked with the date, resting at his locker. He had recorded his second save in an opportunity “I had been fighting for for three years,” he said.
Clippard, really, does not need to close to prove his worth as a reliever. He has been a high-leverage, late-inning weapon for two years. He made the all-star game last year — and earned the win for the N.L.
It is awfully silly to believe that the final three outs are always more meaningful than the first 24. But pitchers themselves, either conditioned by the game or the thrill or the status (read: money) that comes with closing, usually do believe in the power of those last three outs. They’re important because they’re important.
Given the chance, Clippard recorded them. Then he lined up and shook hands.
FROM THE POST
The Nationals continued their mastery of the Phillies with a 5-2 victory, fueled by a Bryce Harper triple three years in the making.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 7, Toledo 0: Corey Brown went 2 for 5 with a home run and 5 RBI. Josh Johnson went 2 for 3 with two walks. Mitch Atkins allowed no runs in six innings on two hits and two walks, striking out three.
Harrisburg was postponed.
Wilmington 4, Potomac 2: Justin Bloxom went 2 for 4 with a double. Robbie Ray allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings on five hits and two walks, striking out eight.
Hagerstown 5, Greensboro 4: Brian Goodwin went 0 for 4 with a walk and a strikeout. Adrian Nieto went 2 for 4 with a double and a walk. Matt Skole went 2 for 5.
Greensboro 8, Hagerstown 4: Brian Goodwin went 1 for 3 with a walk. Billy Burns went 2 for 3 with a double, a triple and a walk.