NEW YORK - Imagine you're making your major league debut. Your knees would be shaking and your heart would be in your throat if that debut was in July in front of 15,000 fans with your team 10 games out of first place, right?
Now imagine that you're making your major league debut on opening day. In front of a sold out crowd of more than 42,000 people. In a tie game. In the bottom of the ninth.
You want to talk about nerves? I'm not sure it gets much more intense than that for a big league debut.
That's the situation Aaron Barrett was thrust into today at Citi Field, and not only did he come out unscathed, he dominated, working a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth with two strikeouts.
Oh, yeah, and when the Nationals put up four runs in the top of the 10th inning and then held on for a 9-7 win, Barrett became a winner. All this in his first day in a Nats uniform.
"Pretty surreal, just like making the team out of camp," a grinning Barrett said in the clubhouse after the game. "Just talking to the veteran guys on the team, they're just telling me to enjoy every single moment that I can. Today it was just one of those moments that I've dreamed about over and over, and it definitely lived up to the expectations. So I think I'm finally taking a deep breath and realizing that that happened today. But no, it was everything I could've ever imagined for my debut. That was unbelievable."
Barrett will obviously remember this day for the rest of his life, but he'll probably have a few details stick with him that wouldn't have otherwise thanks to the efforts of Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche.
After Barrett made his way to the mound for the bottom of the ninth, but before he started his warm-up tosses, Desmond trotted out to the mound. The Nats shortstop and unofficial on-field captain leaned in to Barrett and gave him a message.
"(He) just looked at me and said, 'Hey, just take a second and look around. Just take this all in,' " Barrett said, calling Desmond "such a great leader."
"I'm just really glad he did that, because I'll never forget that moment that he did that for me," Barrett added. "Right after my warm-up pitches, (Adam) LaRoche, he did the same thing. He's like, 'Hey, try and go out there and have some fun. Try and take some deep breaths,' and do what I'm capable of doing and that's win every single pitch. I just tried to take that mentality in today's game. I enjoyed every second of it."
That's all well and good, but we wouldn't be talking as much about Barrett's big league debut if he didn't push the game to extra innings by striking out Omar Quintanilla on a hard slider, getting Travis d'Arnaud to fly out to right and then getting Ruben Tejada swinging on another slider.
"I know, for me, my mentality is to win every pitch and control what I can control and obviously I tried to do that to the best of my abilities," he said.
Barrett had the ball from his first major league strikeout - the one of Quintanilla - waiting for him in his locker after the game. He had his parents, his wife and her mom, and his older brother, his wife and their daughter on hand watching his debut. He played a major part in a dramatic opening day victory. And after four years (including a couple tough ones) in the minors, the 26-year-old walked off a big league field a winner this afternoon.
"Either way, I was gonna be jacked up, regardless of what the score was," Barrett said. "Just to be in that situation, tie ballgame, and in my debut I end up getting my first win, I mean, couldn't have chalked it up any better. Definitely giving all the glory to God.
"What an experience. Words couldn't describe how I felt today."
They sure got close.