It was as if Doolittle felt the gravity of the moment, and was dressing for it. Nationals media relations staff hardly ever ask reporters not to ask a particular question. They never, ever, mandate that they do ask one. But in this case, the traveling staffer made her preferences known — that there was one appropriate first question, and no other. She hardly had to say so.
Doolittle, who earned the save in the Nationals’ 11-inning win over the first-place Diamondbacks Thursday night, had just made history. He became the second visiting pitcher, and the first in Nationals history, to ride the new Chase Field bullpen cart from right field to the first base line.
None of his teammates had been willing to do so, perhaps thinking they would look silly or something like that. Others, including Doolittle, would argue it’s sillier to pass up a free ride. An independent thinker to his core, Doolittle decided that instead of jogging in like he has for years, he would hitch a ride.
“They had asked before the game if there were any relievers that were interested in taking the cart. They said it’s going to be down there. They use the cart anyway to run our jackets and sweatshirts down from the bullpen, so if you guys want it, it’s available,” Doolittle said. “I was like, yeah, I’m going to do it.”
Because the game was so close, Doolittle had plenty of time to consider his decision. He played catch in the eighth inning. He played catch in the ninth inning. He warmed up in the 10th.
“After just standing up there for so long,” Doolittle said. “I was like, ‘yeah, I’m definitely taking the cart.’”
Part of Doolittle’s stress management approach is to control his breathing. He does his best to keep his heart rate low while throwing, but when he runs in from the bullpen, it jumps. As he rushes to warm up on the mound, it continues to climb.
“I had less time by the time I got on the mound,” Doolittle said. “I had a minute and 13 seconds, I looked up, but I wasn’t out of breath. So I was in a better spot energy-wise, I thought. I loved it.
The cart ride saved him some anxiety, although the process clearly caused him some, too.
Only one other pitcher, Astros’ reliever Colin McHugh, had previously used the visitors’ cart this season, something Doolittle was well-aware of — enough to note that McHugh rode in the back of the cart. Doolittle took a seat in the front.
“I was like, maybe it’s like Lyft, so I asked the guy, ‘Where do guys sit?’ He was like ‘well only one guy’s ridden so far, and he sat in the back,'” said Doolittle, who was uncomfortable with the idea of facing backward, and decided he’d much rather see where he was going.
“I was like, ‘I’m going to sit up here with you, is that ok?'” Doolittle said, never one to leave the status quo unquestioned. “He was like ‘I guess. I don’t know.’ He wasn’t exactly sure what the protocol was either.”
Either way, the driver, clearly emboldened by the enthusiasm of his passenger, did not delay. He revved up the golf cart outfitted with the giant shiny black helmet with a rust-red A. Then, as Doolittle put it, he “floored it.”
“I was like, stop before the dugout, stop before the dugout, this is good!” said Doolittle, who could not be accused of back seat driving. “He kind of skidded a little bit. I didn’t mean to make an entrance like that.”
Doolittle turned in a performance worthy of the entrance, working around a hit to throw a scoreless ninth and earn his seventh save of the year. Like so many other relievers, the 31-year-old has been substantially utilized this season. He might not be available Friday night, for though he had not pitched in five days, he had warmed up on four of those “days off” before appearing Thursday night. If he does get the call, he will need all the energy he can get. Now he wants those around the game to know they need not be tired when they take the mound in Phoenix. They simply must dare to be different.
“I think there’s, like, a practical thing to it, too,” Doolittle said. “People are like making a big deal out of it. I’m like, why would I not conserve my energy before going into a game in the biggest moment?”
“I’m coming into the game and Trea’s fist-pumping at shortstop. I had my glove over my face, but it made me start laughing. But I don’t see the thing,” he added. “I’ve been advocating for bullpen carts for years. I think there’s a practical application for that. So I had the opportunity to try it out, and I think it was great.”
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