Under pressure, Rodriguez keeps cool

Under pressure, Rodriguez keeps cool
May 11, 2012, 1:00 pm
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PITTSBURGH -- For all the good that took place from the Nationals' perspective last night at PNC Park, from Stephen Strasburg's 13 strikeouts to Roger Bernadina and Adam LaRoche and Rick Ankiel's home runs, there was a moment that had to leave everyone wondering whether disaster was about to strike.

With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Henry Rodriguez fired a 2-2 fastball to the Neil Walker on the inside corner and the got the Pirates second baseman to whiff at the 98 mph heater.

Except the ball got past catcher Jesus Flores, so Walker took off for first base. And though it appeared Adam LaRoche made a juggling catch of Flores' one-hopper a nanosecond before Walker's foot hit the bag, umpire Greg Gibson ruled him safe.

All of a sudden, the Pirates had the tying run at the plate, and the Nationals couldn't help but wonder whether they were about to see history repeat itself.

"We strike a guy out, and the guy gets on," manager Davey Johnson said. "I'm saying: 'Oh, my goodness, here we go again.'"

The Nationals had seen Rodriguez do this only two nights earlier, blowing a ninth-inning lead in spectacular fashion with two wild pitches and a walk-off homer in the span of about 90 seconds. But if everyone inside the visiting dugout was nervous, the man on the mound insists he wasn't.

"It's just part of the game," Flores said, interpreting for Rodriguez. "He was focused to face the other guy and make good pitches."

Rodriguez rebounded to close out the game. He got Garrett Jones to fly out to right field. Then he got Casey McGehee to ground out to second.

Game over. A 4-2 win in the books. And Rodriguez's seventh save in nine tries secured.

"That was a good confidence boost," LaRoche said. "He needed that. He's one of those guys, I don't think he shows a whole lot of emotion. But you can tell when you sit and talk with him, he wants to win as bad as anybody. He wants the ball in the ninth. He wants to be the guy to save games for us. And I think part of it is trying too hard. So if he can settle down and throw 99 instead of 103, we're all fine with that."

Actually, Rodriguez didn't throw any of his 12 fastballs last night more than 98 mph. That's still plenty hard, but it is a tick or two below his usual radar gun readings.

Most importantly, the 25-year-old flamethrower emerged feeling better about himself. For that, he wanted to thank his manager, who stuck with him in the wake of Tuesday night's debacle.

"He appreciates the confidence from the manager," Flores said, again interpreting for Rodriguez. "He wants to do it well. He wants to win the game. And it was a good thing that we did it tonight."