“He got a little shower,” Sean Doolittle explained, careful not to elaborate. In the Nationals’ clubhouse, a rookie’s first win comes with that rookie’s first beer shower, though no one would say exactly what they poured on the 53-year-old who waited years and endured seven fruitless interviews before his first managerial opportunity.
“Oh, that was awesome,” said Max Scherzer, who said showering Martinez was originally Brandon Kintzler’s idea, though Scherzer had as much to do with it as anyone.
Scherzer threw six scoreless, strikeout-laden innings that helped make Friday the kind of Opening Day of which rookie managers dream. The Nationals played clean, manufactured two runs, watched Scherzer tie the franchise record with 10 Opening Day strikeouts, then watched Kintzler, Ryan Madson, and Doolittle combine for three scoreless innings.
“We played the game really well,” said Martinez, who wouldn’t say exactly what that shower entailed, either.
“Like I always say. You have to be in the circle.”
That circle is Martinez’s “Circle of Trust,” an early staple of his leadership manifested in early-morning spring training meetings that included antics such as camel rides and golf tournaments. He tried to keep this team, loaded with pressure again, as loose as possible.
They were so loose by the end of spring training that some wondered whether they could flip the switch in time for the games that matter. But on a chilly afternoon in Cincinnati in front of the biggest regular season crowd in Great American Ball Park history, after waiting an extra day for rain to clear, they looked crisp and collected.
Martinez let Ryan Zimmerman sit out all spring, trusting the veteran to know what he needed, covering for him as question after question came about when he would play and what he was hiding. As baseball’s sense of humor would have it, Zimmerman drove in the first run of the Nationals’ season, the only one they would need Friday.
After Adam Eaton and Bryce Harper reached ahead of him — something they did a combined five times Friday — Zimmerman hit a groundball that looked like a sure-fire double play ball. The return throw to first bounced, short-hopping Joey Votto, who couldn’t dig it out. Eaton scored.
Those who hunt for omens could find one there, in a double play that wasn’t, one that turned into the first run of the season instead. Then again, those who hunt for omens can find them almost anywhere. For the record, Zimmerman finished 0 for 4 and left five men on base, more than any of his teammates. Those wondering whether Zimmerman’s spring training strategy paid off will have to wait. One day does not the basis for a sound conclusion make.
But Scherzer’s dominant outing can foster conclusions because that outing was not one day’s work. A few weeks ago, Martinez found the three-time Cy Young Award winner huddled in the video room watching film of Votto, the best hitter in the Reds’ lineup he faced Friday. Reds Manager Bryan Price readied his team for Scherzer like most managers who know the righty’s splits and loaded his lineup with lefties. Scherzer held righties to a .136 batting average in 2017.
Though his every-five-days no-hit bid ended in the second inning, Scherzer struck out eight of the first 11 Reds he faced, including seven in a row.
“I was like ‘dang,’ ” Kintzler said. “That’s more than I’ll have this month.”
That strikeout streak ended when Scherzer challenged Votto with a fastball up and in — and got Votto to hit a flyball to left on the first pitch. Striking out seven Reds hitters in a row counts as an achievement. Needing one pitch to dismiss pesky Votto qualifies as herculean. Dismissing him three times on four total pitches is, well, unthinkable.
Scherzer compiled the 65th 10-strikeout game of his career, and in so doing he made things easy on his manager, finishing the sixth at exactly 100 pitches with his spot in the order due in the seventh — a textbook moment to pull him. Martinez turned to his big three relief pitchers, who were aided by Brian Goodwin’s sacrifice fly to score Michael A. Taylor in the ninth. Doolittle earned his first save to send Martinez to the shower.
Martinez was calm from start to finish. He slept 11 hours Thursday night. He began the day in what he described as “a calm,” listening to music, staying away from TV. When he finally met with reporters after the game, the visiting manager’s office at Great American Ball Park reeked of some inscrutable combination of adult beverages.
“I did take a shower,” Martinez said. “Just letting you guys know because I was a little wet. A lot wet, actually.”
The only shower that will matter to this team will be the one they give — or do not give — after advancing past the National League Division Series for the first time. This generation of Nationals cannot find redemption in March. They cannot rewrite their legacy in the spring. But before they do all that, Martinez and his team must get there.
The rookie manager admitted he probably won’t sleep much Friday night, energized by the excitement. Though his team may be drenched in expectations, he won his first game as a major league manager and has a few hours to soak it all up before his second.
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