With final four outs, Doolittle completes Nats’ one-hitter

ST. LOUIS - When the phone rang in the Nationals bullpen and he was instructed to begin warming up, Sean Doolittle didn’t really have time to think about the significance of what was now happening.

Yes, Doolittle knew what was going on. Aníbal Sánchez had not yet allowed a hit to the Cardinals. Through 7 2/3 innings. Of Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.

Chances are, if Davey Martinez came out of the dugout and signaled for him, the no-hitter was no longer intact. Or Sánchez had gotten into a jam without surrendering a hit, and now it was up to Doolittle to not only save the no-hitter but a close ballgame on top of that.

Doolittle-Delivers-Blue-NLCS-Sidebar.jpgIt’s kind of an awkward situation for a reliever. You want your teammate to throw a no-hitter. But you also have to be mentally ready to take over if called upon.

Doolittle had found himself in a similar situation only once before, on July 31, 2017 in Miami. Gio Gonzalez carried a no-hitter into the bottom of the ninth of a 1-0 game, only to give up a leadoff single to Dee Gordon. Doolittle entered and got Giancarlo Stanton to ground into a double play, then after allowing an infield single to Christian Yelich got Marcell Ozuna to pop up to secure the win.

This was similar, and yet not at all similar given the vastly different stakes.

“In that situation, the only way I was going in was if they got a hit,” he said. “That was a 1-0 game. That was very different, because it was a random game in July. We were all-in on the no-hitter. Here, as much as I would’ve wanted to help Aníbal get that, we gotta get the win. So it’s like don’t put the car before the horse. We gotta win the game. You concentrate on doing your job, and hopefully the other stuff will take care of itself.”

It did. Like Gonzalez in that random game in July, Sánchez lost his no-hit bid late. José Martínez singled to center with two outs in the eighth. And so Doolittle’s manager summoned him from the bullpen, not to try to finish the no-hitter but to finish a postseason game with a four-out save.

“Today was different, because it was a playoff game,” he said. “In the back of my head - no offense to Aníbal - you’re not thinking about the no-hitter. You’re thinking about trying to seal the win and focusing on the next hitters that are coming up. So my nerves had more to do with that, just coming into a high-leverage situation in a close ballgame late on the road.”

Doolittle had no trouble delivering under pressure. He got Dexter Fowler to ground out to end the eighth. Then he returned for the ninth and retired the side, making a tough play on Kolten Wong’s bunt attempt, getting Paul Goldschmidt to ground out to first and striking out the final batter of the game, who just happened to be none other than Ozuna.

No, the Nationals didn’t get to experience only the third no-hitter in postseason history. But they happily experienced the 14th October one-hitter.

“It worked out OK,” Doolittle said. “I really wanted it for him, and I really wanted to be a part of it. And I was ready. But it worked out. It worked out good.”

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