Martinez himself is still less than a month removed from thinking that he was having a heart attack in the Nats’ dugout. After being rushed by ambulance to a hospital for a cardiac catheterization, then taking only four days off, he feels “good” now but added after these first two games: “Who needs a stress test? I’m getting one every day.”
Here are the latest examples of how the Nats — horrid as tortured, exaggerated fiction but fabulous as daily baseball reality — continue to cause foreheads to be smacked by palms and lungs turned raw by roars.
In their first two wins against St. Louis, the Nats have allowed just three singles and a double on a misplayed line drive. That all has led to one sad run for the Cardinals.
Sánchez and Scherzer are now the only teammates to take no-hitters into the sixth inning or deeper in back-to-back postseason games. Previously, since postseasons began in 1903, only one pair of teammates had ever taken no-hitters as far as five innings in back-to-back postseason games — yes, Sánchez and Scherzer, six years ago in Games 1 and 2 of the American League Championship Series when they were on the Detroit Tigers.
The center fielder who started the Nats’ Game 2 scoring with a solo homer off loser Adam Wainwright was Michael A. Taylor, who has hit .300 in these playoffs. Only six weeks ago, he was buried deep in the minors and almost forgotten. Now, with Victor Robles not quite back from a strained hamstring, Taylor keeps contributing — as with a dazzling diving catch to clinch the Nats’ shocking upset of the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of the NL Division Series.
With the Nats, the gobsmacking improbabilities never stop. The pitcher who got the save in Game 2 was not even present for Game 1. On Friday, reliever Daniel Hudson was the first player to take paternity leave during the postseason. Wife and infant daughter are doing well, thanks. So is “Huddy,” who didn’t get back to this city until his plane landed just seven hours before he watched — bleary-eyed — as the Cardinals’ Marcell Ozuna popped up his final fastball.
The Nats barely celebrated, just jogged on the field happily as if it was another day on which they had successfully “gone 1-0” — the team’s trivial sounding yet athletically profound mantra. So many peculiar, comical or just brain-freezing events happen to this team on a regular basis that any other approach — any attempt to take in more than one day’s events — might lead to mass cranial explosions.
Now the Nationals come home for a Game 3 the likes of which baseball fans in Washington have not seen since the 1933 Senators reached the World Series.
“Our park has been absolutely legit,” Eaton said of the volume at Nationals Park in the postseason. “We’re really excited to go home.”
“The place has been incredible — they go nutty from the first pitch,” Scherzer said. “I think it’s going to be even crazier after what we’ve done so far. Should be a fun time.”
The Nats were widely left for dead — except in their clubhouse — when they were 19-31 on May 23, with the fourth-worst record in the majors at the time, and 10 games behind the mighty Philadelphia Phillies of Bryce Harper in the NL East. Since then, they have gone 80-40 and outscored their foes by a staggering 188 runs. And only in this NLCS, with both Sean Doolittle and Hudson effective, have they finally put together a semblance of a back end of their bullpen. Meanwhile, the Phillies fired their manager this week.
The strategic turning point of Game 2 was a blunder by Cardinals Manager Mike Shildt. With two Nats on base and two outs in the eighth of a 1-0 game, Eaton was due to face the 38-year-old Wainwright, who already had thrown 92 pitches and gallantly struck out 11, albeit aided by the ridiculous shadows imposed on hitters by Major League Baseball’s made-for-TV late-afternoon starting times.
Before Saturday, Eaton was 5 for 11 with a double and homer off Wainwright. Because of the shadows in Game 2, his 0 for 3 on the day meant little. The move was to call for lefty Andrew Miller. Shildt stuck with Wainwright, saying that he still had his command. But Eaton worked a full count, then lashed a two-run double past a diving Paul Goldschmidt.
“My last at-bat was the first time I saw the ball the whole way [to home plate] — kind of unfortunate conditions for a really big game,” Eaton said. “I looked for a curveball. Sat on it. Got it. Hit it really hard.”
Why choose the curveball?
“I was thinking, ‘It’ll be a fastball.’ Then I realized that I had been wrong on every pitch of the whole game when I tried to figure out what Wainwright and [catcher Yadier] Molina would do. So like George Costanza (the character in “Seinfeld”), I figured, ‘I’ll go the other way — curveball.’ ”
Years from now, when we reread the stories or watch the old documentaries made about the 2019 Nats, we really aren’t going to believe what we are seeing at this very moment.
You have a team that, from being 12 games under .500, made the greatest push from such a depth since the 1914 Boston Braves to reach the postseason with 93 wins. Once in the playoffs, they trailed 3-1 in the eighth inning of elimination games against the Milwaukee Brewers’ Josh Hader and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw. Both times they rallied to win. The back-to-back home runs by Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto in Game 5 against the Dodgers — on consecutive pitches to tie the game at 3 — are signature moments for this resilient team.
“We’ll show up on Monday, ready to go, I’ll tell you that,” Shildt said. “Our pitching has been outstanding. . . . We feel very strongly about our chances. . . . We have Jack Flaherty, really the best guy in baseball in the second half, indisputably, going for us in Game 3.”
Flaherty is exceptional and, indeed, owned a 0.91 ERA after the all-star break. But his foe at Nationals Park on Monday will be a stern customer, too — Stephen Strasburg, who is on an exceptional run in his past 11 starts.
The next Nationals game will be for high stakes and in an atmosphere that is unlike anything of which all but a very few living Washingtonians have even the faintest memory. The team that insisted that it would “Stay in the Fight” has now landed two huge haymakers to the Cardinals. The two more blows that are required will not be easy.
“Stay focused. Go 1-0,” Eaton said. “That’s how we’ve done it all year.”