Stammen, LaRoche and Zimmermann after another walk-off Nats win

Momentum and motivation are terms thrown around a lot in sports and many times in the game of baseball.

That feeling a player gets when the tide turns, the momentum switch that happens can be from a big hit or a great defensive play.

Or even getting out of a bases loaded jam with no outs in a tie ball game. Extra innings, especially.

Nationals reliever Craig Stammen (3-4) got into just such a quandary in the 11th inning Monday night in a tie game against the Diamondbacks.

With the bases loaded and no one out, Stammen recorded a pair of strikeouts and a groundout from three consecutive hitters to keep the game even.

His teammate Adam LaRoche responded with his first career walk-off homer and the Nationals won their season-high seventh straight game 5-4 in 11 over Arizona.

Stammen said despite the difficult spot he put his team in, he begins outings by trying to keep momentum on the Nationals’ side.

“I hope so. When I go into games like that I always tell myself keep the momentum on your side and try to get them in the dugout fast,” Stammen said. “I didn’t really do that but loading the bases and getting out of it motivated Adam enough to hit a homer.”

A reporter asked LaRoche if the momentum captured from getting out of such a jam can motivate a team to win the game.

“Funny you say that I was just talking to him about it and that’s exactly what he said,” LaRoche shared. “I said something about making it exciting and he said ‘well, you wouldn’t had the momentum and been as fired up in that situation’. No, it’s nothing a pitcher ever wants to get in to, but for him to grind back right there, that could’ve easily been a disastrous inning with bases loaded and no outs and to fight back and make those pitches and get us back in the dugout was big for us to say the least.”

Stammen drew on his experience of being in difficult spots to climb back out of the hole he had dug: a man on every base and no one out. He believed he could find a way to get off the mound.

“Yeah, I mean, if you don’t think you can you never will,” Stammen said. “Obviously, you got to believe in yourself. Obviously, those cards were stacked against me and there was only a certain way I was going to get out of it. Luckily that’s the way it went.”

Stammen said he focused on just keeping the ball down like he had so many times before.

“I’m a sinker baller so bases loaded, there’s a force at every base, a ground ball is my best friend there,” he said. “Wasn’t necessarily trying to strike those guys out but once I got two strikes on them, 0-2, I was going to try to make a pitch that would be a strike out or ground ball.”

That pitching performance set the stage for LaRoche, who pulled off his first walk-off homer in his 5,048th career at-bat.

“I got every bit of that one,” LaRoche said. “I did. Just a crazy few days. I don’t how we’ve gotten these walk off situations these last few days but we have and been able to grind back.

“Nice to get my first one, took me long enough. So it’s a good feeling.

laroche-walk-off-celebration-white-sidebar.jpg“You get to the point where you just really stop thinking about it. I feel like I been snake bit. I feel like any of my ninth inning homers have come on the road. I haven’t been able to do it at home. Hopefully this is the start of a few more, I don’t know.”

LaRoche said the key for him is to not think too hard about hitting a homer right there, which actually becomes the most difficult part of the at-bat.

“You try to not try too hard right there and try to go for the home run,” LaRoche said. ‘I think I’m guilty of doing that in the past. Just trying too hard and end up pulling off some pitches. Honestly, the last thing I’m looking for right there is a 3-1 curveball, just happened to see it good.”

Starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann did not really do all that badly, allowing three runs, but surrendering a lead erasing two-run shot to Didi Gregorius in the eighth.

“Yeah, I thought it was alright,” Zimmermann said of his start. “One pitch and it looks a little worse than what it is. In that situation I want to throw a strike, 3-2, and everyone in the ballpark knows I come with the heater, I don’t want to walk another guy. He was ready for it. Got the bat on the ball.”

One factor was three walks to lead off innings for Arizona. It happened in the first, fifth and eighth frames. Zimmermann couldn’t explain why he was walking batters to start those innings.

“I don’t know,” Zimmermann said. “I had a good fastball, had pretty good command, I just couple of them I fell behind and had to work pretty hard to get back and ended up walking them. That’s why we preach we don’t want to walk anyone. Two of my walks scored, we could’ve been home a lot earlier. Lead off walks kill you, and as you can see they usually come around and score.”

Suddenly with three walk-off winners in a row the Nationals have won seven straight games, a season-high.

“You feel like you can win every game,” Zimmermann said. “Even if we’re down late, these last couple of games have been like a roller coaster ride. We’re up then we’re down. We got to come back and we end up winning it. We got a good ball club. We know we can score runs. It’s not over till the last out. We’ve been playing good baseball lately.”

LaRoche was asked if he was enjoying these roller coaster games.

“No, not at all,” LaRoche said, cracking a slight smile.

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