For the first time in six days, Stephen Drew found himself in an oddly familiar place: The Nationals dugout. The veteran infielder, mind you, has been on the club’s active roster all week, but not until the latter innings of tonight’s game against the Padres was he able to actually put on a full uniform and join his teammates on the bench.
Beset with a severe case of the flu, (or some other undiagnosed ailment that sure felt like the flu) Drew was of absolutely no use to the Nationals the previous four games, often sent home to recuperate from symptoms that may not have been entirely family-friendly.
“It’s been crazy,” he said. “I don’t want to say it on TV, but it’s been ugly. Anywhere from high fever to everything else, you name it. It’s been crazy.”
Finally, after four missed games, countless sessions receiving IV fluids and the loss of roughly 7-to-8 pounds, Drew felt well enough to make himself available for the Nationals tonight.
And boy are the Nationals glad he did.
Called upon to pinch-hit with one on and one out in the bottom of the ninth, Drew delivered his biggest hit of the season: a triple off the wall in right-center that scored Anthony Rendon from first base and gave the Nationals a dramatic 3-2 victory over San Diego.
“He’s on the comeback trail,” manager Dusty Baker said. “I’m sure this will make him feel better.”
The entire Nationals clubhouse had to feel better after this win, which snapped a two-game losing streak that, for much of the night, was on the verge of becoming a three-game losing streak. But some deft relief work from Shawn Kelley and Jonathan Papelbon - each stranded a man in scoring position in the latter innings - set the stage for a bottom-of-the-ninth rally.
It began with Rendon, who led off the inning with a single to left. Padres right-hander Kevin Quackenbush followed that up by striking out Danny Espinosa, bringing the pitcher’s spot up to bat.
For a few moments, the guy who had been pitching (Papelbon) was standing in the on-deck circle, helmet on, batting gloves on, bat in hand, determined to step to the plate for the first at-bat of his lengthy career.
Then everyone remembered this still is the real world. Drew hopped up the dugout steps and took Papelbon’s place.
“I was like: ‘What are you doing?’ Go back in!’” Drew said.
Once those shenanigans wrapped up, Drew was indeed the one to step to the plate. He had barely taken any swings all week, only a few in the batting tunnel the previous inning just to try to get him accustomed to facing a live pitch again.
“It wasn’t great,” Drew said. “But it’s better than nothing.”
Drew worked the count to 1-2, then was waiting for Quackenbush to try to get him swiping at a curveball.
“I knew the pitcher had a good curveball, but I had a feeling if he threw it to Drew, he’s going to do some damage,” said Ben Revere, who would have been up next. “And sure enough, he did.”
Drew hammered that curveball and sent it on a beeline to right-centerfield, where it slammed off the wall and fell to the ground. Rendon, who was running all the way, came around to score easily while Drew coasted into third base before he was mobbed by teammates.
“That’s huge,” said right-hander Max Scherzer, who set the tone for the night by tossing seven innings of two-run, 10-strikeout ball. “That just shows you the resiliency of everybody in this clubhouse, to be able to go out there no matter what and compete and do something to help the ballclub. And for him to get his number called and get the game-winning hit, that’s just awesome.”
Not bad for a guy who, until a couple innings earlier, hadn’t even been able to watch a game from the bench in nearly a week.
“He was pale white, like my shirt,” Revere said. “He was pale white. I could tell he wasn’t feeling good. I mean, everybody’s been there: a little bug, and you can’t eat nothing for days and just lose a bunch of weight. But what he did today was definitely big for us. We needed that win to get back on our feet.”