From Teddy's mouth to Nats' ears

From Teddy's mouth to Nats' ears
October 12, 2012, 10:00 am
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In a disconsolate clubhouse following Game 3 of the National League Division Series, Mark DeRosa suggested he might have a few words to say to his Nationals teammates before they took the field the following night with elimination staring them in the face.

So Thursday afternoon, DeRosa turned on the karaoke machine that has sat in his locker most of the season, grabbed the microphone and began reading an inspirational speech he's been reading to himself before big games since he played at the University of Pennsylvania.

Among the salient passages: "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood."

When he finished the famous speech -- with perhaps a couple of unprintable words sprinkled in for maximum effect -- DeRosa paused and uttered the most important line of all.

"You know who spoke these words?" the veteran utilityman said. "Teddy Effin Roosevelt."

Yes, the speech that helped save the Nationals' season was "The Man in the Arena" by none other than the Rough Rider, The Bull Moose, the Trust Buster, the 26th President of the United States and the man whose caricature's futility in the nightly mascot race at Nationals Park for nearly seven years came to embody this franchise's woeful existence. At least, until he finally won the fourth-inning race on the season's final day and has proceeded to win it twice more in the postseason.

"I mean, it's fitting," DeRosa said. "It's perfect."

Hey, whatever works.

And there's no denying the effect the surprise pregame speech had on the Nationals in advance of the most important game they'd ever played. Across the board, players said DeRosa's speech struck the perfect balance between serious motivation and laugh-out-loud hysterics.

And no one was more impressed than Jayson Werth, the eventual hero of a 2-1 victory with his bottom-of-the-ninth homer off Lance Lynn and resident expert on all things Teddy (both the actual president and his racing mascot).

"I actually know that speech real well," said Werth, who was in the training room when he heard DeRosa begin his recitation. "I think it's a good one. It's kind of very parallel to the world we live in today. Not only that, but the fact Teddy gets disrespected for however many years it was. When I did some research on Teddy last year, I ran across that and I found it to be a very powerful segment of that speech. So when I heard D-Ro with some of that stuff, I was like: 'Somebody <i>finally</i> is reading this aloud in our clubhouse. I thought it was good."

Good enough to propel the Nationals all the way to victory in this series and to send them off to the NLCS against the Giants? Perhaps, though credit should probably be given more to the performance of a host of players in Game 4 than to the words that were spoken before they ever took the field.

Make no mistake, the Nationals are still alive because of Ross Detwiler, because of Adam LaRoche, because of Jordan Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen and -- most importantly -- because of Werth.

Put that all together and the Nationals now get the opportunity to host a decisive Game 5 tonight against the Cardinals, the momentum having suddenly and forcefully swung back in their favor.

"We knew this was a huge game for us," Clippard said. "We're at home. To get the momentum back, to win this game today and get it tied knowing that a win tomorrow gets us to the next level. The momentum is definitely on our side, and that's how we wanted it to happen."

Momentum in baseball, though, can a funny thing. Managers love to say momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher. So another rocky outing from Gio Gonzalez could kill the positive vibes altogether and tilt the pendulum back to the Cardinals.

The Nationals understand they can't just ride the emotion from Game 4 and assume it will carry them through Game 5.

"You shouldn't discount a win like that," Ryan Zimmerman said. "That's a heck of a win. To come back after yesterday, against a team like that, with a really good pitcher on the mound ... they had everything set up going their way. They blew us out yesterday. They had a 16-game winner on the mound. And Ross matched him. For him to do that and for us to grind out a win like that today and get to tomorrow -- which was the goal -- we'll enjoy it.

"But this win doesn't get us anything tomorrow. We'll wake up tomorrow and forget about this and get back to tomorrow and hopefully win tomorrow."

If anyone knows anything about the power of postseason momentum, it's the team currently occupying the visitors clubhouse at Nationals Park.

The Cardinals pulled off a similar feat in last fall's World Series, storming back to beat the Rangers in a dramatic Game 6 capped by David Freese's walk-off homer at Busch Stadium. They returned the following night for Game 7 and cruised to a 6-2 victory and a champagne celebration.

"I think you wipe it clean," Storen insisted. "I think we had a great approach today that you don't let the last couple days affect you. You can say that's great, we had a good time. We know how we got there. But tomorrow when we show up, we've got a new approach and we're going to be ready to battle. Because it's going to be ugly tomorrow, but it's going to be a lot of fun."

Indeed, there's nothing quite like a winner-take-all ballgame. Gonzalez and Adam Wainwright may be given the ball to start the game, but it'll be all hands on deck for both clubs.

That applies, of course, to the field of play. Does it apply to the choice of pregame speeches?

Will DeRosa offer a repeat rendition from Teddy?

"I don't think," he said. "I mean, if we don't realize what's at stake tomorrow..."

Don't worry, Mark. Everyone realizes what's at stake now.