By the time Ross Detwiler returned to the Nationals’ clubhouse Thursday night, 83 text messages were waiting.
That’s what happened when the left-hander, yanked from the starting rotation in May as an inconsistent career continued, ended up on the mound at Nationals Park with the season on the line.
In parts of five seasons in the major leagues, the former No. 6 overall draft pick has teased with talent. But Detwiler stood in front of the pink horizon Thursday night, calm as could be, and gave the Washington Nationals a chance to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of the division series.
Over a career-high 104 pitches, he did what three more-heralded members of the Nationals’ rotation couldn’t in the series. He even quieted talk about the playoff rotation spot he occupied in place of shut-down ace Stephen Strasburg. Detwiler kept the Cardinals’ potent offense — the National League’s best in batting average, on-base percentage and runs scored — off balance and, for the most part, off base.
The six-inning, three-hit effort left Detwiler pacing the Nationals’ dugout in the bottom of the ninth inning, unable to sit still, until Jayson Werth’s solo home run finally gave them a 2-1 win on the 13th pitch of his at-bat.
The Cardinals, incidentally, are the team Detwiler grew up rooting for on television in Wentzville, Mo.
“It was incredible,” said Detwiler, not one for hyperbole.
Back on May 26, Chien-Ming Wang took Detwiler’s spot as the No. 5 starter. Detwiler made six appearances from the bullpen before rejoining the rotation for good.
“Ross has been through a lot this year,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “His first half was kind of up-and-down. His second half was unbelievable. Might’ve been the best pitcher on our staff in the second half for a while there. … You’ve got to give him credit for going back to what worked.”
To start, no nerves. That’s not uncommon for Detwiler. He focused on fastball location and 22 of his 33 four-seam fastballs were strikes. Early in the game, Detwiler tried to mix up his pitches. Cue the 48 sinkers. And, to keep the Cardinals’ honest, he mixed in 14 sliders and three change-ups. He wanted to get ahead in the count to put pressure on the hitters He moved the ball around the plate. He stayed under control.
“It was a do-or-die situation,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “You could definitely see it. Det’s not a guy to show much emotion. When he was getting loose, once I saw him being the same … I knew he was going to be efficient.”
Manager Davey Johnson refused to entertain thoughts of pitching Gio Gonzalez instead of Detwiler on Thursday, insisting the Nationals would need Gonzalez for Game 5. The manager’s glee was evident in the interview room.
“I tell you, I was so proud of him,” Johnson said. “He was outstanding. Unbelievable. Won the game for us.”