First-year manager Matt Williams got his first close-up look at Washington Nationals' closer Rafael Soriano making things interesting in the 34-year-old right-hander's second outing and first save opportunity of the season on April 6th in the nation's capital.
The Nats' ninth inning option took the mound that day with a 2-1 lead over the Atlanta Braves.
Soriano retired the first two batters he faced, but gave up back-to-back singles after that, bringing Jayson Heyward up with the tying run on second. Soriano then went to a full count with the Braves' slugger before striking him out with a full-count slider up in the zone.
"I couldn't tell you the number of times, but I'm sure he's been in that situation before, so he's got confidence in all of his pitches," Williams said when asked about the slider Soriano went with to get the strikeout
So... was he nervous watching Soriano work?
"Never," Williams said with a smile. "Never. He's been around the block a couple of times, so he knows what he's doing out there. You get the feeling that if he didn't get Heyward then he was okay with going after B.J. [Upton] too. He doesn't panic, his heart rate never gets up, so, he would want it clean, for sure. But he knows what he's doing."
Soriano has saved 8 of 9 opportunities since then, and 9 of 10 overall on the year, with this past weekend's blown save against the Oakland A's the first he'd blown in 19 opportunities going back to last August. While he's gotten the job done, it hasn't always been pretty.
Even Williams admitted after last night's game, a 5-2 win over New York, that he thought for a moment that Mets' second baseman Daniel Murphy tied things up when he connected with a first-pitch fastball from the Nats' closer, who issued back-to-back walks in the previous two at bats to bring Murphy up as the potential tying run.
Jayson Werth tracked Murphy's line drive to the wall in right and pulled what looked like a game-tying home run back into the park.
"When [Murphy] first hit it I thought it had a chance, yeah," Williams said after the game. "It didn't sound like he got it crisp off the bat, but it carried really well, so there was a chance, yeah."
Williams wouldn't, however, say he was worried about Soriano getting the job done.
"He's our closer," the Nats' skipper said. "So we're confident that he'll get the next guy out, but [Daniel Murphy] has been one of their hottest hitters as of late and he's one of their best hitters overall, so it's not comfortable when he's at the plate with the chance to tie the game. But it's a game of inches sometimes. He didn't quite get enough of it."
Murphy too thought it might go, as he told reporters including New York Daily News' writer Kristie Ackert:
"I thought I had a chance," Murphy said of the ball getting over the wall and breaking what is now a three-game homerless streak for the Mets. "In my heart of hearts I knew it would be close. It crowded me a little bit, just a hair. I knew it was gonna be tight, Jayson made a good play on it."
"It's not easy," Williams said when asked about Werth's game-saving catch. "You're trying to make sure you get back there and make a play. They do it enough to know that once they step on the track, how much room they've got, but it's never easy."
"'I probably should’ve untucked my shirt,'" Werth told reporters after the game, referring to Soriano's post-save ritual of yanking his tucked in jersey out.
Close as it was, Werth kept it in the park and Soriano "earned" save no.9 of the year in 10 opportunities.
Through 17 IP in 2014, the veteran right-handed reliever has allowed just two earned runs, both of them in the blown save in Oakland. He ended the night with a 1.06 ERA, a 2.55 FIP, seven walks (3.71 BB/9) and 15 Ks (7.94 K/9) on the year.
But it came this close to being a tie game: