WASHINGTON -- Former Washington Senators great Frank Howard threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 4 of the National League Division Series between the Nationals and Cardinals on Thursday afternoon.
Howard took the Nationals Park mound for the honor one day after another Washington baseball legend, former Nats manager Frank Robinson, did the same. At 6-foot-7, Howard was known as "Hondo" or "The Capital Punisher" throughout his 16-year playing career, which included seven years as an outfielder and first baseman for the Washington Senators, from 1965-71. The four-time American League All Star was also named the NL's Rookie of the Year Award winner in 1960, and his 237 home runs while playing for the Senators are still the most hit by one player for a Washington-based team. Howard led baseball in home runs twice (44 in both 1968 and '70) and RBIs once (126 in 1970).
Howard began his career in 1958 with the Dodgers, for whom he played until being traded to the Senators prior to the 1965 season. After the Senators became the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season, the Columbus, Ohio, native spent most of 1972 season with the Rangers before his contract was sold to the Tigers in late August.
Howard retired after the 1973 season, finishing his career with a .273/.352/.499 slash line, 382 home runs and 1,119 RBIs. In 1981, he managed the Padres to a 41-69 record in a strike-shortened season. Howard also took over as manager of the Mets for the last 116 games of the 1983 season, going 52-64 in that span.
DeRosa fires up Nats with pregame speech
WASHINGTON -- Mark DeRosa has read Teddy Roosevelt's famous "The Man in the Arena" speech plenty of times before big games -- quietly, to himself. As the Nationals milled about their clubhouse before Thursday's win-or-go-home Game 4, however, DeRosa decided to share it with his teammates, albeit perhaps a slightly more colorful version.
"Epic," closer Drew Storen said of the veteran's pregame pep talk. "The stuff movies are made of."
DeRosa took to the karaoke machine situated between his and Michael Morse's lockers, as he often does before games, and read Roosevelt's entire speech. He planned on being "a little less funny and a little more serious" than usual, but he spiced it up enough to get several Nationals running into the clubhouse to hear it.
"They won't listen to me if I don't throw a few jokes in there," laughed DeRosa, who isn't on Washington's playoff roster but has still found a way to contribute as a mentor. "I've got to give something, right? I feel like if they're going to keep me around and keep me here, there's a reason for it."
DeRosa concluded his speech in a typically light-hearted manner, saying, "You know who spoke these words? Teddy. Effin'. Roosevelt." As humorous as it may have been, first baseman Adam LaRoche said it absolutely motivated the Nationals before their 2-1 win, if only because of the respect his teammates have for DeRosa, one of the few in that clubhouse to have played on such a big stage.
"He's a great leader," catcher Kurt Suzuki added. "What a great guy to have here, and a great guy to turn to in a situation like this."
So, the question had to be asked: Will DeRosa grab hold of the microphone before Game 5 on Friday night and read Roosevelt's words once again?
"I don't think so," he said. "If we don't realize what's at stake tomorrow..."
Zimmermann available in relief in Game 4
WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson was not planning to let Game 4 of the National League Division Series get out of hand, and he said that right-hander Jordan Zimmermann was available out of the bullpen for the game against the Cardinals if starter Ross Detwiler had problems on the mound.
Johnson ruled out left-hander Gio Gonzalez pitching in relief. Gonzalez will pitch Friday, if a Game 5 is necessary. The Cardinals entered Game 4 up in the series, 2-1.
The last time Zimmermann pitched was Monday in Game 2 in a 12-4 loss. He lasted three innings, allowing five runs on seven hits. He threw 63 pitches, 40 strikes.
"Yes, Jordan Zimmermann didn't throw but 60-something pitches in his last outing, so this will be his throw day and he will be available out of the 'pen," Johnson said prior to Thursday's game.
Said Zimmermann about the Game 4 assignment: "[The club's relievers] were all pretty excited when I told them the news before, so we'll see. Hopefully Det goes seven [innings] and I don't get into this game. It would be the best for everything."
On the offensive side, Johnson decided not to change the lineup even though the team came into Game 4 hiting .240 in the series.
"Well, you know, when you face veteran pitchers, I think young hitters are learning that they don't give in and sometimes you have to make adjustments to center the ball," Johnson said. "Every pitch has a purpose from a veteran pitcher. Every pitch. You go away a couple times to come in. You come in hard to go soft away. Especially with a veteran pitcher, you're not going to get your pitch, so you have to sometimes look in the areas and go the other way, and that's how you hit, period."
Nats having trouble with bottom of Cards' order
WASHINGTON -- Everyone knew the Cardinals' potent offense would make life difficult for the Nationals' power pitching staff this series, but even the Nats will admit to being surprised by how tough the bottom of St. Louis' lineup has proven to be.
The middle-infield duo of Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma, the seven- and eight-hole hitters, stepped up in big spots over the past two games, creating a lineup that is essentially without a weak spot. And in two losses, that's proven to be too much for Washington's pitchers to handle.
"You can't beat having eight guys in that lineup ... who were putting tough at-bats together. There's no room to breathe," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's been pretty well-rounded, and we hopefully just keep that going."
Nationals manager Davey Johnson joked that Descalso, who hit .227 in the regular season, has looked like Rod Carew "with power" in this series. The second baseman has three hits with a homer, three RBIs and three runs scored in Games 2 and 3. Kozma, a career .236 hitter in the Minors, broke open Wednesday's game with a three-run homer in the second, clobbering a first-pitch fastball from Edwin Jackson.
Johnson noted that both Descalso and Kozma are capable fastball hitters, and they've been able to take advantage of the way Washington has been grooving fastballs inside and over the middle of the plate all series.
"You can get by if you keep the ball on one side of the plate, at times, when there's not a lot of good hitters in the lineup," Johnson said. "You have to use all your weapons when you face a good club. You get to this time of year, and all the clubs are good -- balanced offense, good defense and pitching -- and you have to make adjustments to be successful. That's the name of the game. There's no softies out there at this time of year."
That's why, to keep the Nationals' season alive, Game 4 starter Ross Detwiler was going to have to keep the Cardinals off-balance and shut down surprisingly effective hitters like Descalso and Kozma.
"They were aggressive when they needed to be, especially the bottom of their lineup. That's what's been killing us most of the time," said Gio Gonzalez, who started Game 1 and will start Game 5 if the Nationals win on Thursday. "That's the adjustment we have to make. We have to attack these guys as much as possible. They're not going to let you walk all over them."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. Mike Fiammetta is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.