Outfielder Nate McLouth came up in the bottom of the ninth with two men on and one out against Cardinals reliever Seth Maness on Sunday.
The Cardinals and Nationals were tied at 2-2. He played a key role in the series, salvaging a 3-2 walk-off winner for D.C.
Maness started with three straight sinkers against McLouth, hoping to get him to bite. But McLouth hung in there, didn’t swing, and got the count to 3-0.
Then, Maness switched up his strategy. He threw a four-seam fastball for a called strike to get to 3-1. Maness then tried the changeup and McLouth was able to get a piece of it to run the count full.
“That is a big situation to come off the bench and I had never faced that guy before,” McLouth said. “Shadows were getting pretty tough. So I just took a couple close pitches. He threw a pretty good changeup 3-1 and I took a close pitch 3-2.
“That is a tough situation where you try to slow yourself down a little bit and Denard (Span) came up and had a great at-bat. ... With a guy that has a really good sinker like that guy to try to see it up, Denard did a great job of that, too.”
Maness threw another changeup that was called a ball and McLouth walked to load the bases.
“I thought it was a ball and it was,” McLouth said. “But you never know until he calls it, so it worked out.”
Tempting for a hitter like McLouth, who had started the first two games of the series and pinch-hit on Saturday and Sunday, to go after that changeup at 3-2 to try to bring home the winning run with a hit. It is especially tempting when you are going through an 0-for-14 burn the last five games.
“I have been grinding,” McLouth said. “To be honest with you, the numbers, hits and things like that haven’t been there. But I haven’t felt terrible at the plate. Putting the ball in play, taking walks, not striking out a ton, going to keep going.”
Span was then able to also battle in a huge at-bat with Maness and loft the ball far enough to left field to bring Danny Espinosa home with a sac fly. McLouth was impressed by Espinosa’s three-hit game.
“He has been having really good at-bats from both sides of the plate, too,” McLouth said. “You have seen him three or four times, he has laid down bunts and got hits out of them. He has looked really good at the plate, quality at-bats. He certainly has pop from both sides of the plate. He has looked awesome.”
Every at-bat is important when you are trying to squeeze out a run in the ninth. Singles by Espinosa and Jose Lobaton certainly are huge, and Span’s RBI won it, but McLouth’s at-bat was critical, too. It allowed the Nationals to split a series with a very difficult Cardinals team, a team that has had their number for a season or so.
“It was nice because they have a great team,” McLouth said. “When they get the lead, they are tough to come back on. It was nice to get the split after they had a chance to win the series today.”
In the minors, the high Single-A Potomac Nationals are the first Northern Division team in the Carolina League to reach 10 wins after Sunday’s 6-5 victory at Lynchburg.
Kevin Keyes slammed a three-run shot while Adrian Sanchez and Randolph Oduber also provided RBIs. Oduber is leading off for the P-Nats and playing center field. He went 2-for-4.
Ronald Pena (4-0) went five innings for the win, allowing two runs, with only one earned run on four hits, one walk and four strikeouts. Derek Self pitched two scoreless innings in relief. Robert Benincasa allowed one run in the ninth, but was able to record his fifth save.