Johnson, the manager who always builds confidence, believes in all 25 of his men, and never flinches from the implications of the bench that he has built, called for Moore. In his mind, Tracy and Moore were roughly equal hitters, but Rzepczynski (4.24 ERA) was, against a righty, inferior to the Cards power-arm right-handers that might face Tracy.
“I thought he was going to leave [hard-throwing] Mitchell Boggs in there to face Tracy,” Johnson said. “But I said, ‘If he bring in Rep. . . whatever his name is, I’m going with Moore. . . . I knew I controlled the matchup no matter what they did.”
But you only control it if you’re willing to trust the kid. “That’s been our strength all year,” Johnson said of the youngsters who have filled in for injured players.
In recent weeks, when a bout of rare good health has given the Nats a full lineup, Moore has gotten little playing time. He’s sat next to veterans and asked, “How do you pinch-hit?” In the eighth, he talked with Mark DeRosa, who’s around for his brains even though he’s not on the roster. “They help me keep my heart rate down,” said Moore.
“They didn’t want to pitch to Tracy, our best pinch hitter,” Moore said. “I chased one pitch [for a foul]. I wanted to make him bring the ball more in my zone.” Finally, on a 2-2 pitch, Whatever His Name Is threw a good 93 mph sinker just off the outside corner. It just wasn’t quite good enough. With two outs, both flying Nats scored easily.
“Bases loaded, nobody out. It doesn’t get much better than that,” Matheny said of the failed seventh-inning uprising. “They made a couple of good plays and pitched their way out of it. We did have our opportunities.”
That will make this loss even harder to take for a veteran team that, after its miracle title run last season, knows just how vital this Game 1 truly was.
The question hanging over the Nationals all season has been: What happens when huge pressure arrives? Which players rise, which rattle? How many of each will there be? Do those cases of nerves or inexperience — or simply meeting emotions that have never before arisen within you — change at-bats, innings, entire games or the whole series?
And how would the Nats react to watching this rolling real-time test as it sweeps across the whole roster, testing one man after another whether at bat, on the mound or in the field?
If the Nats had lost, then Gonzalez’s wildness, Werth’s two failures with the bases loaded, a throwing error by Zimmerman and three strikeouts by Espinosa would be among the sins under examination. Instead, Werth’s home run robbery gets top billing. Zimmerman’s start of that tough-hop double play is remembered. And Espinosa got down a sacrifice bunt that left two runners in scoring position for Moore.
A few times a season, Gonzalez looks like a man in a small circular raft, exactly the size of the pitcher’s mound, who is drifting further and further out to sea as all his customary points of useful and comforting reference recede until they disappear. Leaving him lost and alone unless something comes to save him. This time, he returned to shore only two runs the worse for the scare.
“Gio got out of it and pitched pretty well,” Johnson said. “That’s what your ace does.”
No, that’s the rose-colored hue that Moore’s crucial hit casts over all other events.
If you have to wait almost forever, exactly 79 years to the day, to get back to the postseason, this is exactly the way to start.
For Thomas Boswell’s previous columns go to washingtonpost.com/boswell.