“Just have fun.”
It’s almost as common a phrase as the “go 1-0 today” you pretty much hear every game day from Nationals manager Davey Martinez.
And really the “fun” is more or less just relaxing at the plate, relaxing on the mound.
But can you have fun before 53,086 at Dodger Stadium in the most important game of the year, after the Nationals had scored zero runs in the series opener? In the playoffs? Against a 106-win team that has been to back-to-back World Series?
Easier said than done.
In a three-hour, 37-minute roller coaster, hang-on-the-edge-of-your-seat Game 2 of the National League Division Series in Los Angeles, “the boys did it” as Martinez would say. The Nats won 4-2 over the Dodgers to tie the series 1-1 with Game 3 on Sunday night at Nats Park.
“The fact that we won, that was really nice,” Martinez told reporters. “The guys just played well. Hey, nobody talks about the ball that Rendon caught there at the end. That’s a tough play. The bunt that Adam Eaton put down to give us first and second that (seventh) inning. That’s those little things become huge in these kind of games.”
After Game 1, Nats shortstop Trea Turner admitted the club might have been trying too hard. He saw it in the wild card game and again in the 6-0 setback series opener.
“Yeah, I think I said that yesterday in a lot of my interviews after the game, was just trying too hard,” Turner told reporters. “Not a bad thing to be doing in the playoffs. Everybody wants to win, everybody wants to contribute. But just have fun, enjoy each other and kind of look around and embrace where you’re at.”
If any player could be forgiven for just looking around and taking in all those crucial, nail biting, men on base moments Friday night it is 35-year-old veteran Ryan Zimmerman. The first baseman doubled off of Dustin May in the eighth and came around to score on a Cabrera base hit, plating a very important insurance run after the Dodgers had scored two runs in a row to chip away at an early 3-0 Nats lead.
“That’s what you play for,” Zimmerman told reporters. “I think I looked over at Ted [Barrett] the first base umpire and said, ‘Whenever I’m done, this is what I’m going to miss.’ You can’t replicate that. There’s nothing once you’re done playing that’s going to be on any sort of level like that. You cherish those moments.”
Strasburg was the picture of calmness in his six innings as he set down the Dodgers, allowing only one run, three hits and striking out 10. In seasons’ past, the weather, the mound and his comfort had all been used as excuses as to why he didn’t pitch up to his capability.
This season has been different for the 6-foot-5, 235-lb. hurler. He has been calm and cool about everything he does. And in another moment where it would be easy to let a game get to you, Friday night was the one. But Strasburg just went about his business, focusing on catcher Kurt Suzuki’s painted fingernails for the call of next pitch.
“I just learned over the years that pressure’s a funny thing and I think it’s something that you have complete control over,” Strasburg told reporters. “There’s obviously a lot of expectations, there’s a lot of excitement in games, but I really tried over the years to train my mind into thinking that every single game is just as important and just sticking to my approach. I mean, my approach is everything and the results are one thing and how I respond to those results is just as important.”
Probably the biggest pressure was felt by the Nats closer in Game 2.
Hudson went through a laborious and gut-wrenching ninth inning in which he absorbed a leadoff double from Justin Turner and two walks. Hudson fought through a bases loaded two-out ultimate jam with the game on the line to strike out Corey Seager.
“It’s a different atmosphere in October, especially here,” Hudson told reporters. “It’s a tough place to come in and play, especially in the ninth inning. You get a little momentum going and this place gets really loud. You try to tune it out as best you can and try to put all that adrenaline that they’re feeding you, put that into every pitch.”
And that’s what the Nats did Friday night to give them a shot in this series. They took that adrenaline and that pressure and they turned that into fun. Just like Martinez always said.