ST. LOUIS - Remember all the talk about the vast difference in playoff experience in this National League Division Series? How the Cardinals had an edge over the Nationals because they’d been through all this before? How the Nats might be affected in big spots because of the added pressure that comes with late-inning, playoff situations?
“It obviously didn’t affect us,” reliever Ryan Mattheus said after today’s 3-2 Nationals win.
Nope, it sure didn’t. That isn’t to say that experience doesn’t factor in or that it isn’t a benefit to teams that possess it. Some guys - like Gio Gonzalez, for example - seemed a bit rattled in his first postseason game, and his performance suffered as a result. But when you look at the guys who carried the Nats today, it was largely playoff rookies Mattheus and Tyler Moore stepping up in the clutch.
Mattheus came into a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the seventh inning with the Nats down 2-1. It was a back-against-the-wall situation, especially when you consider the Cardinals were sending Allen Craig and Yadier Molina - their No. 4 and 5 hitters who have been in big spots before - to the plate. Making his major league postseason debut, it’d only be natural for Mattheus to be fighting off some butterflies.
“No, I wouldn’t say butterflies,” Mattheus said. “It was more of, we’ve prepared for this. ... This is the situation I want to be in. I want the ball in big situations. So I think we’re prepared for this. We’re not nervous. I think anyone down (in the bullpen) is going to rise to the occasion.
“There was definitely some emotion. Like I said, that’s the biggest game I’ve been in. Those are the biggest three outs and the two biggest pitches I’ve ever made, so being down one run, I wanted to pump the team up and hopefully get some momentum back in our direction.”
Mattheus, a sinkerballer, entered thinking that if he kept the ball down and attacked the Cardinals hitters, he could work his way out of trouble by getting them to beat the ball into the ground. He knew Craig and Molina would be aggressive, given they wanted to deliver a big blow to put the game out of reach, and he used that against them, getting Craig to ground into a force at home on the first pitch and then getting Molina to hit a roller to short which turned into a 6-4-3 double play.
“My mindset was come in, get a ground ball and hopefully minimize the damage,” Mattheus said. “If I get three outs and give up one run there, then that’s a good job, too. Luckily, I was lucky enough to make two good pitches, they were hit right at guys, and we got three outs.”
Mattheus became the first pitcher in major league postseason history to record three outs on two pitches. After he came through in the clutch, Moore followed, looping a two-out pinch single off Marc Rzepcyznski into left in the eighth which brought in the tying and game-winning runs.
“I know he’s got a good sinker,” Moore said. “Just want to stay on the ball as much as possible, try not to do too much. The 2-1 was a swing out of the zone a little bit. Wanted to make sure I had a ball in my zone a little bit more and was able to flare it out to right.”
The ball dropped, Michael Morse and Ian Desmond scored, and Moore ended up on second base after advancing on the throw. He pumped his fist, looked into the dugout and heard the dugout explode with noise.
“It was overwhelming,” Moore said. “I got chills out there. It was great because 50,000, and you couldn’t hear anything. It was great. All of a sudden, I see my teammates jumping up and down. They can’t control themselves. So it was great.”
Neither Mattheus nor Moore had performed on this stage before. Neither shied away from the moment and both reaped the rewards.
“We were able to calm ourselves down and take the situation as it came,” Mattheus said. “That’s the thing that I said, the guys that do have experience, the Mike Gonzalezes, the guys that do have experience, Edwin Jackson, Mark DeRosa, they’ve been preaching to us the whole time down the stretch run that we’re good and don’t panic. Don’t put too much extra on it, and that’s what wins in the postseason.
“Hopefully, we can not panic when we’re in those situations late in the ballgame, and hopefully they keep coming out in our favor.”