PITTSBURGH - Standing in the batter’s box with the score tied, Ryan Zimmerman on second and Adam LaRoche at first in the top of the ninth inning, Tyler Moore figured he’d need a base hit to drop somewhere for Zimmerman to come around with the go-ahead run.
“I would have thought those were the last two guys who were going to steal,” Moore said after the Nationals’ 5-4 win.
Moore certainly wasn’t alone. Pirates left-hander Tony Watson, on to try and keep the game tied in the ninth, couldn’t have expected Zimmerman and LaRoche to take off on a double steal. After all, Zimmerman had just been plunked in the left leg and had never stolen third base in his career entering today. And LaRoche is, well, probably the slowest position player on the Nationals roster and had just six career stolen bases.
“That’s probably how they always think about me and Rochie and some of those guys,” Zimmerman said. “But if I have guys like that and throughout the year if they’re going to give me third base, I can take it. ... Trent (Jewett, third base coach) and Davey (Johnson) and Randy (Knorr), all the coaches work really hard to know when we have the best chance to steal and take advantage of certain situations for that reason.”
That work paid off. Once Jewett got word from Zimmerman that his leg was fine, he gave the Nats third baseman the green light to make a move to steal third. Watson is notoriously slow to the plate - Johnson said the Nats had him clocked at 1.8 seconds from first movement to the time the ball crosses the plate, an incredibly high mark - and the Nats took advantage.
Zimmerman took off, slid into third without a throw and LaRoche swiped second base behind him. Then, two pitches later, Moore lofted a high fly ball to right, deep enough to score Zimmerman from third with the game-winning run.
Moore had stranded six in his last two times to the plate, leaving the bases loaded both times. This time, he cut down on his swing, knowing a fly ball would do the trick, and got the job done.
“I left a lot of guys on base earlier in the afternoon,” Moore said. “I just wasn’t seeing the ball good today. You have those days. Just to come through there at the end was huge, just to try to battle it out for the team.
“I was trying to (cut down on my swing) in the other at-bats, too. Sometimes that doesn’t work, and you just try to keep it positive in your head, because so many things are going on. It was rough day, and it ended up being fine. Coming out with a win is the biggest thing.”
Moore was mobbed when he got back to the Nats dugout, his teammates aware of how rough a day it had been on the 26-year-old.
“T-Mo’s been great,” Zimmerman said. “Talk about a kid who anywhere else would probably get 400, 500, 600 at-bats. He comes here and does everything we ask and more, and he’s always ready to play. He’s got a chance to be really, really good.”
The 5-4 win capped a day in which Johnson held a closed-door team meeting, something he hates doing.
“Davey’s Davey,” Zimmerman said. “His meetings are more about, he says they’re for him, not us. He likes to vent a little bit. But Davey’s so great with all of us in here. He takes the blame for so much, and when he has a meeting like that, or a talk, as he calls it, it’s more that everyone just needs to relax. We have a young team, it’s early in the year.
“Everyone thought we were going to come out and win 100 games, which we still can. But you’re not going to go 20-10 every month. I’m sorry, it just doesn’t happen in professional sports. I feel like a lot of people thought we were going to do that. People in (the clubhouse), media, fans. I mean, it’s not going to happen. We’re going to have bad months like we had in April. This is a new month and we just need to continue to grind out at-bats like we did last year.”
While Johnson’s meeting might’ve been mainly so he could vent and just put his support behind his players, the message was well-received by the guys in the Nats’ clubhouse.
“At times, we have fun and go play. And at times, we press,” Moore said. “I’m guilty, too. It’s everybody. It’s tough, because you know you have a good team and everybody wants you to be good, and you want to be good. You just got to go out there and let it happen.”