Pressure reveals the true character of an athlete.
When the game is on the line, no one could hit like Reggie Jackson, David Ortiz or Derek Jeter. When you needed an out, leave it to Mariano Rivera, John Smoltz or Madison Bumgarner. Whether it was shear will, a laser focus or the ability to “clear the mechanism,” each of them rose to the occasion time after time after time.
Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker said it would require something more “supernatural” when the Nationals host the Chicago Cubs in Game 4 of the National League Divisional Series. Trailing the series 2-1, Baker is sending Stephen Strasburg to the mound this afternoon.
After the Cubs shutout the Nats in Game 1, Strasburg came down with “flu-like symptoms,” according to Nats GM Mike Rizzo. “Fever, chills, acute sinusitis,” said Rizzo earlier today. “And when he threw his bullpen Monday, he was feeling really bad. He had no endurance. He was really weak. Doctors aggressively put him on an antibiotic regimen, anti-inflammatories, and fluid IVs.”
Rizzo said Strasburg woke up this morning “feeling much more like Stephen Strasburg and he went to the manager’s office and said, ‘I want to start this game.'”
Baker couldn’t believe his eyes — and ears. Just hours earlier the chances of Strasburg pitching were close to zero.
“The thing about baseball is things are subject to change,” said Baker.
Change may be just what the doctor ordered.
Prior to Game 5, Baker told the media he had talked to some of his Hawaiian friends who preached the power of mana. According to Hawaiian culture mana is “spiritual energy” that provides supernatural power and strength.
Sounds good, but the truth is, there is no such thing. Elimination games are often a battle of wills. Who has enough gas in the tank to pitch on short rest? Who will make a mental error, or a physical one, for that matter?
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said:
“This time of the year, you try to control the controllables; that is not something under your control, who they want to pitch. You can’t let stuff like that bother you — ever. Doesn’t matter who Washington pitches.”
Baker said the challenge of managing in a elimination game — and Game 5 against the Cubs will be hist 10th in 14 seasons as a manager — is all about numbers and preparation, but either way it’s “all hands on deck.”
His experience has not served him well. He is 0-for-9 in series-clinching games.