(Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press)

Davey Johnson does not believe in pep rallies, not even in the hours before a game that, if lost, would mark the end of the season.  The Nationals’ 69-year-old manager did the same thing he always does this morning. He ambled through the clubhouse. He sidled up to players as they stretched.

“I talked to a few of the boys,” Johnson said. “Told them that it’s too early in October to be thinking about going home and starting your winter.”

The Nationals will play for their season today, for one more day. “Gotta win today,” Jayson Werth said. They will hand the ball to Ross Detwiler, still looking for their first quality start of the postseason. They’ll face Kyle Lohse, whom they battered for eight runs in 5 2/3 innings when they last met at Nationals Park.

Nationals players are very confident about their chances to win the series if they make it to Game 5, if they give Gio Gonzalez another shot at the Cardinals. First they have to win Game 4.

The key may be a fast start – a few zeros by Detwiler and maybe, for the love of God, a clutch single with a man in scoring position. They need to remind the Cardinals that it’s still a series, and they need to do it early.

“We have to set a statement right off the bat that there will be a Game 5,” Gonzalez said. “I think that the more we compete, the more and more we give these guys a chance, I think it gives the guys an opportunity to have fun and win every game.”

The clubhouse carried a “loose” atmosphere today, Gonzalez said. “It felt like a normal game,” said Jordan Zimmermann, who will be available out of the bullpen today. “Everyone is excited to get back out there and get a win.”

Johnson had no plans to gather his team and give a speech. It is not his style during the season, and he does not want to change during the playoffs, to panic with the season on the line.

“A meeting by me is putting more emphasis on, this is more important than every game we face,” Johnson said. “The mentality of this ballclub has been that that’s an important game.  I mean, they read the papers.  They can add and subtract. They know how important it is to go out there and beat the Cards.”

Johnson said he would take a different approach in Game 4 because of the stakes. If Detwiler shows signs of struggle early against the Cardinals’ fearsome right-handed hitters, he may quickly turn to Zimmermann, his Game 2 starter.

“We’re in a situation that if Det has a problem, I would go to Zimm earlier,” Johnson said.

The Nationals hope it doesn’t come to that, and that Detwiler will bounce from his final regular season of the season, which also came against St. Louis. Detwiler walked five and allowed seven runs while recording seven outs. Johnson will have a short leash. The Nationals think he can make the right adjustments.

“Ross is actually a very bright guy,” Gonzalez said. “He watches video. He does his job.  He picks everyone’s brains. I think he’s just the type of guy that kind of adjusts as he goes along. I think that watching him throughout the year, he’s fun to watch.”

Johnson is a manager who has seen everything baseball can present, and he has been in this spot before. Worse, actually. In the 1986 World Series, his Mets trailed the Red Sox in an elimination Game 6 by two runs, with two outs and two strikes. Of course, they scored three runs and would win Game 7, too.

“I think you have to have a mentality, you never take anything for granted,” Johnson said. “I mean, I don’t take anything for granted if we have a nine‑, 10‑run lead. The game ain’t over until it’s over. The thing that jumps to my mind is ’86, two runs down, two strikes, two outs, bottom nine, we come back and score three runs.

“So you can’t take it for granted at any time, whether you’re up or down or whatever, that it’s over. That room over there, the guys I’ve got, they have that mind‑set. You take nothing for granted. We don’t feel like we are out of this by a long shot. Believe me.”

With Zimmermann up for bullpen duty, Gonzalez also volunteered to pitch in Game 4 if the Nationals became desperate. “If they need me right out of the pen, if they need me immediately, I will be out there,” Gonzalez said. “Whatever Davey needs me, I will be out there for him.”

Johnson rejected the offer in his swaggering style, with one sly sentence.  

“I need him,” Johnson said, “for tomorrow’s game.”