A special moment for Sean Doolittle, closing out the NLDS

Chris Lingebach
October 10, 2019 - 4:31 pm

The Nationals are "incredibly proud" of their accomplishment, in knocking off the Dodgers to advance to their first NLCS in team history, Sean Doolittle says, but "we don't want to be done yet," he carefully adds.

After yet another improbable comeback by Washington, in a season full of them, Doolittle took the ball in the bottom of the 10th inning, with the Nats leading 7-3, just three outs away from advancing beyond the NLDS, something the Nats had failed to do on four previous occasions.

Doolittle was lights out, mowing down A.J. Pollock on a swinging strikeout, inducing a groundout from Max Muncy, who had killed the Nats in the series, and getting Justin Turner to fly out to center field for the series-clinching final out of Game 5. Champagne.

The Nationals move on and will face the Cardinals – the team that eliminated the Nats from the postseason in the 2012 NLDS – for Game 1 of the NLCS in St. Louis on Friday.

"Oh my gosh. It's gonna be fun," Doolittle told 106.7 The Fan's Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on Thursday. "I think as crazy as last night was, it's just the beginning for this group. I know that a lot's been made about this organization winning its first playoff series, I believe since 1924. Is that right?"

"Yeah. Within D.C. baseball, yeah," Paulsen confirmed.

"We're incredibly proud of that accomplishment," Doolittle said. "But we don't want to be done yet."

In 1924, the Washington Senators bested the New York Giants 4-3 in the World Series. That series, 95 years ago, was the last postseason series victory by a Washington baseball team.

Of course, that franchise is now the Minnesota Twins. The Expos, which are now the Nationals, won a division series in 1981. That win over the Phillies was the last series victory in Nationals franchise history.

This is the first series victory in Nationals team history.

Catch all that?

"This group has so much fun playing together and fighting together. Why not?" Doolittle said. "Let's keep it going. I know a lot of people kind of counted us out in May and we stuck together as a group. This is a special group and I'm just really proud to be a part of it. Last night has kind of barely (sunk) in to be honest with you, but by the time we get on that plane here in a couple hours, it'll be all business."

"I think we might have a light workout tonight when we get into St. Louis just to knock the cobwebs off and get focused for Game 1," he said. "We've got Anibal going. He pitched really well in Game 3 when he was out there, so feeling good about that. Hopefully this is just the beginning, but it's been an incredible run so far. We just want to keep it going as long as we can."

Before Game 5, Doolittle went back and re-watched his appearances against the Phillies from the final week of the regular season. That's when he found another level, he says, and he wanted to soak it in and reclaim the mindset he had for that series before facing the Dodgers.

"You know what? After... look, everything's running together. After Game 4, I got some good results," Doolittle said. "I was happy with how I pitched, but I knew I wasn't quite back. I was actually happier with how I threw the ball in Game 2. Even though Muncy clipped me, I thought I threw the ball better that night. But I went back and watched a bunch of film from the save I got against the Phillies."

"In the last homestand of the season, I struck out the side," he recalled. "I didn't chop it up that much. I didn't micromanage it that much. I didn't like pause it and zoom in. I just wanted to watch it, just to feel and see if I could get something to sink in, because I was on a different level that night, mechanically and just how everything was coming out of my hand. I had a great throwing session before Game 5 and I felt really, really good."

Doolittle wasn't used in the Sept. 24 game against the Phillies – the night game of the doubleheader – that clinched the Nats' Wild Card berth. Nor did he get to pitch in the Wild Card Game against Milwaukee a week later.

So the gravity of the situation Wednesday night – his number being called to close out the Dodgers, in the bottom of the 10th inning, for a chance to clinch the first series victory in Nationals history – certainly wasn't lost on Doolittle.

"I didn't get to pitch in the Wild Card Game. I didn't get to pitch in the night that we clinched the playoff spot," he said. "But for my number to be called and to be on the mound to clinch a series win, and for everything it means for this organization and for this team, that was incredibly special."

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