Mattheus, Moore make their cameos count
ST. LOUIS -- The other guys became the key guys for the Washington Nationals on Sunday.
Ryan Mattheus was a Minor League pitcher two weeks removed from Tommy John surgery when the Nats acquired him on July 31, 2009, in a deal that sent Joe Beimel to Colorado. The Rockies had signed Mattheus as a 19th-round Draft pick out of Sacramento City College six years earlier.
"I had a cast on my elbow, was riding an exercise bike at Coors Field and was told I'd been traded," said Mattheus. "It blew me away."
Tyler Moore was a three-time Draft choice of the Nationals. He turned them down after being selected in the 41st round out of high school in 2005, then he did so again after being chosen in the 33rd round out of junior college in '06. Moore finally gave in when they took him as a 16th-round choice out of Mississippi State in '08.
"I figured I was running out of time," said Moore.
Mattheus and Moore turned cameo appearances into highly acclaimed moments in Washington's 3-2 victory against the defending World Series-champion St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in Game 1 of the National League Division Series -- the first postseason game for a team based in the nation's capital in 79 years.
NL Cy Young Award hopeful Gio Gonzalez somehow wiggled through five innings, allowing only two runs despite equaling his career high with seven walks. Closer Drew Storen worked a perfect ninth to earn the save in the franchise's second postseason appearance and the first since it was in Montreal and lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1981 NL Championship Series.
But it was Mattheus and Moore who provided the muscle and might that put the Nats in command of the series, which continues with Game 2 at Busch Stadium on Monday at 4:30 p.m. ET on TBS, and then heads to Nationals Park for Game 3 on Wednesday.
"Let's enjoy this for a few minutes," said Washington general manager Mike Rizzo.
There are plenty of reasons for him to want to relish the moment. He was, after all, the Nationals' scouting director before he became the general manager, so he not only had a major role in the first-round Draft bonanza the Nats have enjoyed with the likes of Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman, Ross Detwiler and Storen, but also in uncovering the likes of Mattheus and Moore.
"That," Rizzo said, "is what makes this so special."
That was Mattheus getting the call with the Nationals trailing, 2-1, in the bottom of the seventh with the bases loaded and nobody out for the Cardinals. Two pitchers later, the inning was over. The Cards didn't score. He threw a sinker to cleanup hitter Allen Craig, who hit a ground ball to short, and Ian Desmond threw home for the forceout of Jon Jay. Mattheus threw another sinker to Yadier Molina, who grounded to Zimmerman at third to start a rally-killing double play.
"[Bullpen coach] Randy [Knorr] just told me, 'Let's get three outs before anyone touches home plate,'" said Mattheus. "It didn't make any difference if it was three line drives or three strikeouts. We just needed three outs."
He got them.
And that was Moore making manager Davey Johnson the winner in the eight-inning strategy battle with Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny. With two outs and runners on second and third, Johnson turned to veteran left-handed hitter Chad Tracy to face Cards right-hander Mitchell Boggs. Matheny brought in lefty Marc Rzepczynski, and Johnson countered with Moore, who was only 6-for-29 in a pinch-hit role during his rookie season but did have two home runs and seven RBIs. With a 2-2 count, Moore took a deep breath, got a pitch away, a bit off the plate, and drove it the opposite way for a game-deciding two-run single.
"I'm on the roster to pinch-hit, and I know [Rzepczynski's] the only lefty in their 'pen, so I know coming in he's probably the only at-bat I'm going to get in any game we play," said Moore. "Obviously, they don't want to face Tracy. He's proven what he can do. That has happened before. They'd rather face me."
Next time, however, Moore has given the other side something else to think about.
It's not like four or five years ago Rizzo was able to envision a moment like the situation on Sunday, but he obviously saw things in both Mattheus and Moore that gave him reason to feel they could be factors in the building of the Nats' foundation.
Rizzo did, after all, make the call on the deal with Colorado for Mattheus, well aware that Mattheus had just undergone right elbow surgery and wouldn't be able to pitch for at least a year.
"I had seen him in the Futures Game the year before and liked that hard sinker," said Rizzo. "What I knew was we weren't going to get an arm like his if he hadn't had the operation, not for Beimel, a guy we weren't going to keep the next season, anyway. We were willing to wait for Ryan to get healthy."
Just like the Nationals were willing to wait on Moore, who turned them down when he came out of Northwest Rankin High School in Flowood, Miss., and again a year later after playing at Meridian (Miss.) Junior College.
"We had an area scout [Eric Robinson] that loved the kid," said Rizzo. "A lot of scouts would look at him and say he didn't run real well or didn't throw real well. But [Robinson] kept talking about his explosive bat. He wouldn't give up on the kid."
And on Sunday in St. Louis, the Nats have to admit, the wait was worth it.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.