Moore had never faced Rzepczynski, and so as he walked up the dugout steps, thought back to his conversation with Mark DeRosa prior to the game. DeRosa told Moore the lefty would throw him mostly sinkers, but to watch for a change-up.
“I’m coming off the bench in front of 50,000 people,” Moore said. “It’s crazy. I’ve been in that position before. I was able to calm myself down. It’s kind of just you and the pitcher up there.”
Said DeRosa: “T-Mo has ice water in his veins. All the confidence in the world against any left-hander.”
Moore ran the count to 2-2. He reduces hitting to its simplest form — see the ball, swing hard. Rzepczynski fed him a 93-mph sinker on the outside corner, and he flared it into right field. Both Morse and Desmond trotted home, the Nationals led, 3-2, and Moore glanced into his erupting dugout.
“It was overwhelming,” Moore said. “I got chills out there. You couldn’t hear anything, and all of a sudden, I see my teammates jumping up and down – they couldn’t control themselves. It was great.”
The Nationals had fought the entire game to keep it to within one run. Gonzalez had walked the ballpark and forced in one run with a wild pitch to Wainwright, but had somehow kept it a one-run game. “Vintage Gio,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “He has a propensity to keep you in the ballgame and make the pitch when he has to.”
They couldn’t add on to the run they scored on Suzuki’s second-inning RBI single, partly because Werth grounded out with the bases loaded in the second and struck out in the sixth. But Werth found a way to keep the Nationals close.
In the sixth, with one runner on, Daniel Descalso ripped a deep drive off Stammen to right. Werth froze, the ball lost in the shadows. Werth started backpedaling, trying to find an angle to block the sun. At the last second, he sprinted through a shadow created by a light standard.
“I remember being like, ‘Oh, there it is!’ ” Werth said. “Everything happened at the last second.”
As he reached the fence, the ball finally in sight, Werth leaped with, his glove extending, his back crashing into the wall. The ball smacked into the palm of Werth’s mitt above the eight-foot high fence, and somehow, as Werth fell back to the ground, he held on to the ball.
“I’m telling you, if I didn’t go in the shadow, I don’t know if I catch the ball,” Werth said.
Werth’s snag seemed easy by comparison after the next inning. In the seventh, Stammen hit Holliday with a pitch to load the bases with no outs. Hulking cleanup hitter Allen Craig walked to the plate. Earlier in the game, the scoreboard flashed Craig’s average with runners in scoring position this year: .400. In the bullpen, Sean Burnett turned to Mattheus and asked sarcastically, “Is that good?”
Now, Johnson trudged to the mound and called for Mattheus. Craig grounded Mattheus’s first pitch to Desmond, who threw home for one out. Yadier Molina grounded his second pitch to Ryan Zimmerman, who started a 5-4-3 double play. Mattheus had become the first pitcher in postseason history to throw two pitches and complete a full inning.
“I wanted to use that momentum right there,” Mattheus said. “That was a big swing.”
The Nationals rode the escape for the next two innings, confident from a season’s worth of nailbiters. “Flash back to April and May,” Rizzo said. “That’s how we pulled it out.”
The Nationals built their 98-win season on unexpected heroes, on just enough offense, on overcoming. In the playoffs, a place they had never been before, they didn’t change in their opening game.
“The Cardiac Nats,” Desmond said. “It was a lot of fun. I can’t wait to do it again.”