Late-game theatrics leave Nats ready for games that matter

JUPITER, Fla. - Davey Johnson walked into the Nationals clubhouse after today’s 2-1 win over the Cardinals with a giant smile on his face.

“That’s baseball at its best,” Johnson said. “If that doesn’t get your motor running, nothing will.”

The last inning and a half of today’s ballgame was incredibly entertaining. Working in a tie game in the bottom of the eighth, Henry Rodriguez was involved in an intense battle with Cardinals leadoff hitter Tyler Greene, and eventually struck out Greene with a fastball on the inner half, stranding the potential go-ahead runner in scoring position.

Then, facing Cardinals closer Jason Motte in the top of the ninth, the Nats took a 2-1 lead when Danny Espinosa barely beat a throw to the plate, a play which was so close that Cardinals manager Mike Matheny came out to argue - a rarity in spring training.

Full disclosure: I didn’t actually see any of that.

I was part of the cluster of reporters that was down talking to Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez as the game neared its conclusion, and unfortunately, we didn’t catch the last inning and a half of today’s ballgame.

Apparently, we missed some good baseball.

Johnson was as fired up after today’s game as he’s been all spring, a sign that the regular season is quickly approaching, and he liked the way his team played in a game just four days prior to opening day.

“I love baseball, but I love it when it gets tense like that,” Johnson said. “I like every pitch, every little thing that goes on. It just intensifies. Regardless of whether we’re successful at it or fail at it, that’s baseball.”

Rodriguez’s eighth-inning performance was still causing some Nationals to shake their heads in the clubhouse 15 minutes after the game. The flame-throwing righty got out of a jam in the eighth by striking out Daniel Descalso and Greene to end the frame, with the latter being set down on a blazing fastball which immediately followed two snapped-off curveballs.

“That’ll send someone into retirement, right there,” third base coach Bo Porter said.

Rodriguez, who will be heading back to Washington with his family before tomorrow’s game, will end spring having thrown 11 scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts and two walks.

The Nats scored the go-ahead run in top of the ninth after Espinosa singled, moved to second on a Roger Bernadina single and then barely snuck in at home - according to the Nats and home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn, at least - on Mark DeRosa’s single to right.

It’s still only spring training, at least for one more day, but these are the types of games which can get a team ready for the ones that matter.

“I look at it as, you drive two hours, you might as well try and win the game,” DeRosa said. “You’re starting to see, like playing against the Marlins the other night, like a regular season game. I know guys don’t have that same drive and same fire, but it’s getting close.”

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