Mark DeRosa knows what his role is on the Washington Nationals. From the first day the veteran arrived in spring training he spoke of understand that he was brought in to be not only a utility man but also a key presence in the clubhouse.
So with the team one loss away from being eliminated from the playoffs and their charmed season ending, DeRosa said Wednesday he’d give a small speech to the team before Thursday’s Game 4.
“I think a lot of people go, ‘We’ve got to play the same way we’ve played all year,’” DeRosa said Wednesday evening. “Coming through the Braves organization and seeing us win all those division titles and not advance far in the times I was there through the postseason, that always felt like that was the mentality that we took: Play it just like any other series during the regular season.
“I like putting the extra pressure, the finality of it, the football mentality of it. That’ll be my little speech to the guys tomorrow: ‘There is no tomorrow,’ even though that’s stating the obvious. I think you approach each pitch like that — you can’t do it for 162 — but you can do it for a short series. You can do it when the money’s on the line.”
The mentality DeRosa said the Nationals’ position players need to take is one of aggression — and of enjoying the moment that they’re in. Several players and coaches who’ve played in the playoffs before have mentioned that this week. They want all of the players to appreciate where they are and what they’re playing for, because it makes it more fun (and perhaps easier) when they do that. DeRosa said he gave similar advice to Cody Ross in the 2010 NLCS when he was en route to winning the NLCS MVP.
“Realize what’s at stake,” DeRosa said. “It sounds so corny, but when you’re in the backyard as a kid you’re not thinking about playing a May game in wherever. You’re thinking about these moments right here. Embrace it. I always said, ‘Take a moment, step out and embrace the towels going around. Want the moment, want the ball hit to you, want the big at-bat.’
“I think that’s the mentality even if you fail, if you keep going up there and having that mentality, good things will happen more so than the other way, if you’re scared, and I don’t see that being the case… There are teams that are going to lose. I’m not saying it’s the Rocky speech, it’s going to be-all, end-all. But I think that’s the mentality I like to bring to these games.”
The Nationals need to win two games in order to punch a ticket for the NLCS. They’ve won two or more games this season on 25 different occasions, rarely allowing their losses to pile up or separate their victories. They’re aware of those facts, but they also know how much momentum will play a part.
“That’s why it’s so hard to win playoff games and it’s incredibly hard to win a World Series,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “People play 20 years and never make it to the playoffs. Look at the Braves all those years, they win the division year-in and year-out and then lose in the first round. It’s not easy. I think it’s frustrating, but in the same sense we know having the bst record in the regular season doesn’t get us anything in the playoffs. There’s no panic in here.”
“Nothing needs to be said (Wednesday),” DeRosa said. “We got beat; we got beat pretty handily. Move on to the next day. Thank goodness we have another game. We need to draw on the fact that we’ve been the best baseball team for 162. We’ve just got to win one game tomorrow and Ross (Detwiler) will go out there and give his best effort. I’d like to just give Gio (Gonzalez) one more opportunity to pretty much cement the season that he already had.”
DeRosa didn’t shy away from the fact that he’d speak to the team before Thursday afternoon’s game, but he didn’t think the nuts-and-bolts strategy needed to be a topic.
“This group likes to get right around here and discuss how we’ll go about it,” DeRosa said. Then he smiled, a reminder that all of them still could after losing 8-0, and pointed out that, at heart, they already know what they need to do.
“I don’t think anything (strategic) needs to be discussed. I’m not even on the roster and I already know how Kyle Lohse would pitch me tomorrow. I’ve already grinded it out. He’s got no shot tomorrow [to get me out].”