CHICAGO - If you were walking the streets of Chicago tonight between the hours of 7 p.m. and 10:25 p.m. local time, you probably heard Tanner Roark’s personal fan club cheering him on from the right field bleachers of Wrigley Field.
Roark, who hails from nearby Wilmington, Ill., made his first ever appearance at Wrigley tonight, and it just so happened to come on the night that two party buses packed with his friends and family members rolled into Wrigleyville to catch the action. They made their presence known early on, but really started hooting and hollering when Roark started warming in the bullpen in the fifth inning.
After starting his major league career by throwing 10 innings without allowing an earned run, Roark battled some jitters and surrendered four hits and two earned runs in the fifth inning, but he rebounded to strike out the side in the sixth and got credited with the win in the Nationals’ 11-6 victory.
“It feels great,” a smiling Roark said after the game. “I heard (my friends and family) all ... game ... long. Just chanting, ‘Tan-ner!’ The first inning when I went out there, the adrenaline is just pumping big-time and the ball was up a little bit. I need to be able to control that. But it was good to see everybody. It’s awesome to have that kind of support.
“You don’t want to let the game speed up on you, and that’s what happened tonight. The adrenaline was flowing, and the ball was up. You just can’t get the balls up. Your two-seamer is going to be flat, and it’s not going to sink and everybody is going to hit it like they did. I need to bounce back and take a deep breath and focus on the glove.”
Roark allowed four straight hits to start his outing, but then pumped the brakes and got the final two outs of the fifth. He returned to the dugout trying to clear his head and settle the nerves a bit.
“All the guys were patting me on the butt and just giving me, ‘Keep going, keep going, we know what you’ve got,’ ” Roark said. “So I went there in the dugout and focused and calmed myself down a little bit so I didn’t go out there and leave balls up again.”
By the time the game ended, Wrigley had pretty much emptied out, but Roark’s fan club was still there, cheering their guy on.
“It’s been a dream of mine to play at Wrigley,” Roark said. “I’ve been a Cubs fan growing up. I’ve been in the bleachers. I’ve been where all the fans were at today. I love the support. It’s great. It keeps me going.”
This wasn’t Scott Hairston’s first time playing at Wrigley; he started the season with the Cubs before coming to the Nats in a trade about six weeks ago. He knows how tricky it can be to prepare for pinch-hit situations at this park, where the only batting cage is in the outfield under the bleachers and can’t be accessed during the game.
“It’s very hard to stay loose here,” Hairston said. “I was somewhat used to getting ready before I got traded. But you have to really keep in mind that your body can get tight on the bench, so I usually get up every other inning and stretch or ride the bike. I think mainly you have to be mentally focused in that situation and prepared to come in and do your job.”
The lack of up-to-date facilities didn’t seem to bother Hairston, who smoked a 1-2 changeup from Cubs lefty James Russell for a three-run homer in the seventh that led the Nats to their second straight win. Not only did the homer come against the team that traded him away, it came after Russell intentionally walked Jayson Werth to get to Hairston.
“It feels good,” Hairston said. “It’s the stuff that you dream about as a kid, especially when the batter in front of you gets walked. There’s a little pride as a hitter. You want to stick it to that team, so to speak, when you walk the guy ahead of you. I kind of take that personal. I just wanted to make sure I did my job, and it worked out tonight.”
Ross Ohlendorf returned from the disabled list today and worked 4 1/3 innings, allowing four runs on six hits. The bulk of the damage came on two home runs surrendered to Anthony Rizzo, but Ohlendorf still felt pretty good about his 91-pitch outing.
“I was glad to get back out there,” he said. “Felt good. I wish I pitched deeper into the game for us, but the offense did an awesome job so they really did well.”
With Taylor Jordan on the disabled list and shut down for the season, Ohlendorf is slotted as the Nats’ fifth starter for now, a role the veteran right-hander looks forward to attacking.
“I’m really excited to have a chance to start,” Ohlendorf said. “It’s a good opportunity to show them I can pitch well at the end of the season. Any time right now I get to pitch, it’s an opportunity to show I can do a good job.”