Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman watches the playoffs every year, and so last night he flipped on the play-in game between the Cardinals and Braves. “Obviously,” he deadpanned, “it was just a boring game where nothing happened.”

The viewing differed from years past. He was not a passive observer anymore. He was part of the action. It reminded of watching tournament games in college at Virginia. He imagined it felt like playing in March Madness. “It was cool,” he said. For the first time, after seven full seasons and 990 games played, he is a playoff participant.

“It’s fun to watch and know you’re going to be a part of it,” Zimmerman said. “I’ve watched in the past, and it’s exciting because you know how much fun it is to play the game. Now, I’m going to know what it’s like to play in that situation.

“It’s a long season. It’s a season filled with ups and downs. I never had a chance to go through those ups and downs and then have more games to play. It’s definitely a good feeling, an exciting feeling. But I think everyone in this room this we have a long way to go still. I think we just have to keep playing the game like we’ve played it all year, and we’ll be fine.”

Mike Wise’s excellent column includes much more of Zimmerman reflecting on his time in Washington and his first playoff season.

>>> Given the Cardinals’ lethal combination of right-handed batters, Christian Garcia figures to be a major factor in the NLDS. He has been electric since his call-up in early September, allowing three earned runs in 12 2/3 innings with 15 strikeouts. He throws 96 mph with a nasty change-up and a 12-6 curve – the kind of repertoire you need to make it through a row that includes Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Yadier Molina.

“I don’t really look at the guy who’s up there,” the ever-confident Garcia said. “I respect them, but I pitch to my strength.”

For those all-important outs between the starter and the back of the bullpen, Garcia could very well be called on to face the Cardinals’ right-handed sluggers. He appeared in two games against the Cardinals this month, allowing one hit and no walks while striking out four in two innings.

He could handle quite a role for a reliever who started this year in Class AA, for a pitcher who has twice undergone Tommy John surgery in addition to another elbow surgery. He tore through two levels of minor league ball, and with his performance he left the Nationals no choice but to put him in their bullpen for the playoffs.

“Those are the moments I live for,” Garcia said. “I live for all those moments when the lights are on and the pressure is on me. I feel like that’s when you get the best out of me, when you put me in a corner and I’ve got to get myself out.

“This is what you dream of. When I was rehabbing, the thing that helped me get through days I didn’t want to work out were days like this – being able to pitch in the postseason. Not just pitch, but be somebody in the postseason and make a name for myself.”

>>> The Nationals faced Cardinals Game 1 starter Adam Wainwright twice this season, each game ending in a wildly different result. On Aug. 31 in Washington, he recorded eight outs and the Nationals won, 10-0. On Sept. 28, he allowed one run in five innings and the Cardinals smoked the Nats, 12-2.

It has been that kind of season overall for Wainwright in his first season coming back from Tommy John surgery. “I’ll be the first one to tell you, I was one of the worst pitchers in the first half of the season,” Wainwright said. “That first month, I was an embarrassment to this team and to the game of baseball.”

By the time Nationals faced him, though, he had approached the form that twice made him a Cy Young Award runner-up. Asked about Wainwright, Bryce Harper responded with two words: “Kitchen sink.”

“I don’t know that he was totally back, but he had good stuff,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “I’ve seen when he was throwing 94 or 95. Whether he gets that back or not, I don’t know. He’s a warrior. He’s a pitcher out there. He gets it … A lot of it comes down to that curveball, how he’s feeling on a given day. If he’s getting over in any count, he can be tough.”