They came dressed in red. They stood and cheered throughout most the game. They. Were. Loud. An announced sell-out crowd of 43,915 packed Nationals Park and cheered on the NL East champion Washington Nationals in what ended up a 4-3 loss in Game 1 of the NLDS matchup with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Nationals noticed.
“It was a great atmosphere last night,” Anthony Rendon told reporters when he talked about the previous night’s game on Saturday afternoon.
“I guess some of our comments and some of our pleas with the Nationals fans are finally getting heard. It's fun to see the excitement back in D.C. with baseball.
“They were amazing last night and I hope they continue to bring it out every time we go out on the field.”
Dusty Baker, who joined Billy Martin and former Nats’ skipper Davey Johnson as the only three major league managers to take four different teams to the postseason in major league history, experienced playoff baseball in D.C. for the first time on Friday night and he liked what he saw from the fans in the nation’s capital.
“I loved it,” Baker said. “I tell you, wish it was like that every day. It’s only like that every day in a few places, and I loved the sea of red, a lot more red than blue, and it made us feel good, and I think it was a great atmosphere, it was a good atmosphere and we want to do something to show our appreciation for the home fans like win today.”
The Nationals dropped the series opener, and rain forced Major League Baseball to postpone Game 2 on Saturday, so this afternoon the Nats will attempt to even things up with the Dodgers before the series shifts to LA.
Tanner Roark takes the mound at 1:08 PM EDT today, in his first postseason start.
Baker talked before Game 2 was washed out, about the road Roark has taken to today’s outing, which will be his third postseason appearance, but his first start.
Roark came on in relief in October in 2014, after winning 15 as part of the Nationals’ rotation that season, and shifted the bullpen in 2015 in spite of his success the year before.
Baker said when he got here, he asked Roark what he wanted to do after a sort-of lost year as a reliever.
“I talked to him initially, when I took the job,” Baker explained, “trying to find out about each player, each person, their aspirations and where they feel most comfortable, and I asked him, Are you a starter or a reliever, which one would you rather do?
“And he told me he wanted to start.
“So I said, ‘Okay, I'm going to give you every opportunity to start.’ And I couldn't understand a guy who wins 15 games his rookie year and the next year he's in the pen, but I didn't know that that was the same year that they had, I guess [Doug] Fister and [Max] Scherzer, which is the reason he went to the pen.
“This guy, he's a horse. He's a warrior. We feel very comfortable with him on the mound. We know that he's going to fight you every turn and every inning of the game.”
Roark, a 2008, 25th Round pick by the Texas Rangers, acquired by the Nationals in a deadline deal in 2010, won a career-high 16 games under Baker this season, putting up a 2.83 ERA, a 3.79 FIP and a .227/.309/.330 line against in 207 2⁄3 innings as a starter.
He might not get the attention he deserves pitching in a rotation that features Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, but his teammates notice.
“I definitely feel Tanner has been underrated,” Rendon said, “I guess the majority of his career. He's a bulldog. I love that guy.”
“He goes after all the hitters. He's not afraid of attacking anybody. He has three great pitches and it's going to be fun to watch him pitch today.”
Roark might be the classic underdog, and the Nationals have put themselves in a tough spot after dropping Game 1, but as Baker told reporters before the start of the series, he’s okay with the role they find themselves in.
“I've been underdog most of my life,” Baker said. “I have two drawings on my wall by Joe Smith. He was the Underdog artist, and actually Underdog was one of my favorite cartoon characters. So I like underdog.
“I've heard in the past that this team was favored the last couple years and didn't do much, so perhaps we'll do more as the underdog than as the favorites.”