Earlier this week, the Nationals announced that former pitcher Livan Hernandez would throw out the first pitch for Game 1 of the NLDS at Nationals Park on Friday. It was a sensible choice. Hernandez is a noteworthy figure in the club’s short history. The Cuban right-hander was a fan favorite during parts of five seasons in Washington. But that idea was scrapped when Hernandez couldn’t get out of Florida because of Hurricane Matthew. The Nationals then announced they would have “a surprise guest” for the job and didn’t disclose the selection. Turns out, the backup plan was another fan favorite already in their clubhouse.
A few minutes after receiving a huge ovation during pregame introductions, catcher Wilson Ramos, whose career-best season ended Sept. 26 when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, gingerly walked out to the mound to another roar as his popular walk-up song blared. In full uniform, he threw the pitch to backup catcher and fellow Venezuelan Jose Lobaton and did his “Buffalo” gesture before the two embraced. The moment completed the pregame festivities, which included complete introductions of both clubs, a four-helicopter flyover, and Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins declaring “Play ball!”
“Hearing them chant my name made me very emotional,” Ramos said. “I felt a lot of nostalgia, too, because I’d like to be in there helping the team. Unfortunately, I can’t, but there’s nothing better than being here supporting them and letting them know my heart is with them.”
The pitch could be the 29-year-old Ramos’s final act on the field in a Nationals uniform because he will become a free agent this winter.
“I thought about that because nostalgia hit me,” Ramos said. “I thought about it for a moment. Imagine, so many things that cross my mind in this moment. I really don’t even know what to think. But that was something emotional for me, to be there with the fans yelling my name really loudly and that filled me with emotion. I like this organization a lot. I feel good here and we hope to stay here and make a decision after the season.”
He was on his way to a sure payday until suffering that right ACL tear for the second time in five years. Ramos had declined a three-year contract extension offer from the Nationals worth over $30 million a month earlier. He finished the season with a career high in batting average (.307), home runs (22), RBI (80), on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.850) and games played (131).
“I know this is going to delay a bit what I’ve wanted, but I got to keep moving forward,” Ramos said. “I got to keep going, do my rehab, and come back next year as strong as possible to come back and show them or any organization that I can be play for several more years.”
Ramos said he plans to stay with the team and travel to Los Angeles. His knee surgery is scheduled for when the Nationals return, either Thursday or Friday.
Washington will platoon rookie Pedro Severino and Lobaton in Ramos’s absence. Severino, a right-handed hitter, got the start Friday against Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw. Severino reached base twice Friday. He reached on an error on a hard-hit ball to second baseman Chase Utley in the second inning and doubled to leadoff the fourth inning. He scored later in the frame and was removed from the game for a pinch hitter in the eighth.
Nationals Manager Dusty Baker indicated Lobaton will start Game 2 Saturday. Lobaton is 2 for 3 with two doubles in his career against Rich Hill, the Dodgers’ Game 2 starter. But that was before Hill bloomed into the dominant force he’s become this season.
Former Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche is slated to throw out the first pitch for Game 2. His son, Drake, will catch it.