NEW YORK — At the end of a marathon day at Citi Field, one that included a 3-hour, 47-minute ballgame, a struggling ace, potentially serious injuries to two key regulars and enough twists and turns to fill several weeks’ worth of games, Matt Williams was left searching for one thing: Pepto-Bismol.
“I have a stomachache now,” the rookie manager said. “Which is probably pretty normal.”
Very little about the Nationals’ 9-7, 10-inning victory on Opening Day was normal. Williams certainly got a crash course in managing a big-league ballgame, presented with just about every scenario a skipper might face.
And, for the most part, he pushed the right buttons, putting players in situations that set them up to succeed.
There were some nerve-wracking moments along the way, especially when Bryce Harper took a knee to the head and Wilson Ramos was forced to leave the game after taking a foul ball off his left hand.
In the end, Williams perhaps showed everyone what type of manager he will be, and what type of club he will lead: One that won’t be afraid to try just about anything to pull off a victory, especially late in games.
“That’s what we want to have as our DNA, that we never give up,” he said. “We never give in. They proved that today. We have the kind of folks on this club who can do that.”
Among the big decisions Williams made over the course of the game…
— Pulling back pinch-hitter Kevin Frandsen, and wasting his eligibility, in favor of Nate McLouth for a key at-bat in the top of the seventh. McLouth wound up drawing a four-pitch walk against just-inserted Mets right-hander Carlos Torres, setting the stage for Denard Span to draw another walk and force in the tying run.
“Kevin’s got good numbers off that guy, too, but I decided to go with Nate in that regard,” Williams said. “In the end, it worked out for us. I don’t know if we could’ve gone wrong with either guy there, but we decided to send Nate up there and give them another look.”
— Sending Danny Espinosa up to pinch-hit with two outs in the top of the ninth and the Nationals trailing by a run. Espinosa, making his return to the big leagues after his banishment to Class AAA Syracuse early last season, battled his way through an 8-pitch at-bat and drew a walk, setting the table for Span to again deliver the game-tying double.
— Having Aaron Barrett make his major-league debut in the bottom of the ninth with the game tied. The rookie right-hander wound up retiring the side, striking out two and earning his first career win.
“The situation called for it,” Williams said. “He matched up well with the guys who were coming up, we thought. He’s ready to pitch every day, so we got him out there. He did great.”
— Pulling Ryan Zimmerman as part of a double-switch, inserting Espinosa at second base and moving Anthony Rendon to third base. The reason for that unconventional move? With Ramos injured and Frandsen out of the game without playing, Espinosa suddenly was the emergency catcher if something happened to Lobaton.
“The only thing that worried me during the game was that we burned Kevin,” Williams said. “He’s technically the emergency catcher. So, if Wilson’s out of the game, we’re down to the situation that we’ve talked about all spring. That was the only thing that worried me. But we wanted to leave Danny in the game. That’s why we took Ryan out in that spot. We wanted to have Danny in the game in case something happened to Lobi. So that was the reason we took Zim out.”
It all worked out in the end. Williams shook hands with everyone on the field, then returned to the clubhouse, where he was doused with beer in honor of his first managerial win.
Only 161 more of these to go.
“I’m alive,” he said with a sigh. “I’ll probably sleep pretty good tonight. But our guys played really well. They played really well today.”