The St. Louis Cardinals had occupied the field earlier in the afternoon. Eleven pennants representing World Series titles flapped in the brisk wind, including the one they earned last season. Against the defending world champions, only four of the 25 Nationals on the playoff roster — starter Edwin Jackson, first baseman Adam LaRoche, right fielder Jayson Werth and reliever Michael Gonzalez — have ever played in the playoffs.
Most of the Nationals have never played in a postseason game. Most of the Cardinals won the World Series last year and have won all five elimination games they have faced over the past two postseasons, including Friday night’s victory over the Braves in the wild-card game.
“Playing in big moments year after year gives you an edge,” Cardinals Game 1 starter Adam Wainwright said. “I feel like you’ll be more comfortable in those situations when you’re faced with it over and over again. And last year’s experience — playing the last month of the season, like every day was your last — and going through that postseason where you’re the underdog every time, which we always are and which we are again, it gives you an edge. It gives you a sense of being comfortable in tight spots.”
Does experience matter?
“Not as much as you guys make it out to be,” Werth said to a pack of reporters.
“I don’t know if it doesn’t matter,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “I just think it’s overrated.”
“As much as people say it doesn’t,” Gonzalez said, “it does.”
Recent history shows teams have rarely reached their first postseason and crashed their way into October. Of the 17 World Series champions since the introduction of the wild card, 12 had gone to the playoffs at least one of the two seasons prior.
“It definitely helps,” Jackson said. “You have a lot people, once they go back multiple times they know how to handle different situations. But at the end of the day, it can be your first time and you can still go out and perform. It just depends on how you treat it.”
The majority of the Nationals cannot know how the enhanced pressure will affect them, because they’ve never felt it before. The spotlight probably would not affect an entire team, but rather take effect on an individual basis.
“There’s two types of guys,” Gonzalez said. “Either you’re going to back up, or you’re going to buck up. It’s one of those two. You’re either going to become a star, or you’re going to be scared of the situation. That’s just the truth. You’ll see that with individual players. Some guys can be playoff guys, and some guys can’t.”
Said Wainwright: “It depends on the man, to be honest with you. I think some people have it inside of them to step up and play great ball no matter what it is. And some people can get tight.”