The tone and attitude of the Nationals clubhouse rests mainly on the veteran players. No other player in the clubhouse commands the respect of Mark DeRosa, a longtime major leaguer who has played little this season and isn’t on the NLDS roster. But DeRosa’s impact, as it has been most of the season, has been mainly behind the scenes. And now, with the Nationals staring down elimination against the Cardinals on Thursday, it was a moment for him to help guide others.
Following Wednesday’s 8-0 loss, DeRosa said he didn’t need to address the team as a group as they entered win-or-go-home Game 4. If players come to him, or to anyone in the back end of the clubhouse where many of the veterans sit, he and others would offer some advice. Thursday would be just like every other game they’ve played, just with the stakes higher than they’ve ever experienced. Nothing mentally, DeRosa, needs to change.
“[Wednesday] you need to wash away and come back,” DeRosa said. “We gotta win two games. It’s not something that can’t be done. It’s not something we haven’t done repeatedly throughout the year.”
Many players, such as Tyler Moore, Gio Gonzalez and Bryce Harper, point to DeRosa as a guiding presence throughout the season, even when the utility man battled his own injuries and couldn’t play. So hearing how DeRosa feels about the Nationals’ position is a window into how other players, especially the younger ones, may feel about it, too. Despite a disheartening loss and facing elimination, DeRosa doesn’t think it will be hard to re-group and play again.
“Realize what’s at stake,” he said. “Realize that … I mean, it sounds so corny, when you’re in the backyard as a kid you’re not thinking about playing a May game in wherever. You’re thinking about these moments right here. Embrace it.”
In fact, it’s fine to let some of the pressure seep in.
“I like putting the adding pressure, the finality of it, the football mentality of it,: DeRosa said. “So, that’ll be my little speech to the guys tomorrow: There is no tomorrow. Even though that’s stating the obvious, if you approach each pitch like that … you can’t do it for 162, but you can do it for a short series, you can do it when the money is on the line.”
But the Nationals aren’t playing like they have been all season. The pitching has been mostly ineffective against the potent Cardinals bats, posting a collective 7.27 ERA. The hitting has struggled to push runners across home plate, stranding 30 men on base over three games.
“I’m just looking for that one big hit,” DeRosa said. “I’d like to see a guy get a big hit with runners on base, kind of let the dugout exhale a little bit.”
Reliever Michael Gonzalez, another veteran player with plenty of postseason experience who other younger players have turned to this season, said this of this of the struggling bullpen: “I don’t think it has anything to do with being tired. Maybe a little amped, leaving the ball up a little bit and not hitting our spots. Again, that comes with experience and them coming out there and doing it. I guarantee you that some of these guys that have been through it now understand what they need to do.”
Manager Davey Johnson, not one for huddling the team as a whole, was as confident as he always is following Wednesday’s loss and echoed the same feelings as DeRosa. He believes in Thursday’s starter Ross Detwiler and wasn’t rushing to throw ace Gio Gonzalez out there instead on three days rest. Acting panicky wouldn’t send the right message.
“We are not out of this by a long shot,” Johnson said. “Keep us in the ballgame tomorrow, get a few key hits, we’re right back in it. Shoot, I’ve had my back to worse walls than this, but I like my ballclub, and I think we’ll come out and play a good game tomorrow.”
After the loss, many of the players repeated the same sentiment. The results weren’t there to show for it, they said, but they would approach game 4 the same way they had every over game before.
“We need to draw on the fact that we’ve been the best baseball team for 162,” DeRosa said. “And we just got to win one game [Thursday].”
FROM TODAY’S POST
The Nationals fall to the Cardinals, 8-0, and drop to 2-1 in the season series, writes Adam Kilgore.
Without Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals rotation is having trouble matching its regular season success, Thomas Boswell writes.
The Nationals leave 30 runners stranded in the series, as the offense sputters, writes Barry Svrluga.
Chris Carpenter fought through injury to return this season, and delivers for the Cardinals, writes Katie Carrera.
For Nationals fans, a joyous day turns to heartache, writes J. Freedom du Lac and Steve Hendrix.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL