As well as each was pitching all summer at Class AAA Syracuse, neither Zach Duke nor Christian Garcia ever gave serious thought to the possibility of getting promoted to join the Nationals before season's end.
Not that they hadn't performed well enough to merit consideration for a promotion. But with the Nationals posting baseball's best record behind the sport's best pitching staff -- and considering neither held a spot on the organization's 40-man roster -- they knew the odds were slim at best their services would be needed at the big-league level.
That only made the experience of donning Nationals caps and jerseys for the first time this morning sweeter for both players. Each had his contract purchased and was promoted to Washington for the remainder of the season.
"I knew the way these guys were throwing up here that for me to get called up there'd have to be an injury -- or probably two or three injuries -- so I didn't expect to be called up," Duke said. "It was pretty shocking and very overwhelming. ... I'm just so thankful for it."
"To be with guys as talented as everybody in here, it's an honor just to be able to put their jersey on," Garcia said. "Knowing they're in first place, trying to clinch a playoff spot, it's an honor."
Each player's promotion is testament to perseverance, because each took a long road to reach this juncture.
Duke, 29, owns 48 big-league wins and a 2009 All-Star selection with the Pirates, but after getting released by the Astros at the end of spring training had only one offer for a minor-league contract: from the Nationals. He reported to Syracuse and proceeded to go 15-5 with a 3.51 ERA in 26 starts.
There's no room for Duke in the Nationals' rotation; even with Stephen Strasburg's pending shutdown, only fellow lefty John Lannan will be needed to make a couple of spot starts down the stretch. But manager Davey Johnson plans to use Duke out of his bullpen, perhaps needing the left-hander to record a key out or two at some point.
Duke, who has some relief experience with the Diamondbacks, insists he'll contribute any way he can, ecstatic simply to be given the opportunity to don a major-league uniform again after not knowing if it would ever happen again.
"When you get released from a team like Houston who has the worst record in baseball, it doesn't look really good for you," he said. "The Nationals still believed in me, gave me a shot, and it worked out."
Garcia, 27, is a big leaguer for the first time after a long and arduous road that included two Tommy John surgeries on his right elbow. A third-round pick of the Yankees in the 2004 draft, he signed with the Nationals last year and worked his way up from short-season Class A Auburn to Class AAA, where he posted a 0.56 ERA in 27 games.
Having made a career-high 45 relief appearances this season, Garcia is in uncharted waters. He's not worried, though, about fatigue down the stretch, certainly not given the opportunity he's now been given.
"I feel great," he said. "I feel healthy, 100 percent. I'm not tired at all. I think I just got another shot of life getting up here."
The Nationals had only 39 players on their 40-man roster at the start of the day, so there was room for one of the additions. Another spot was created when reliever Henry Rodriguez (who had surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow) was transferred to the 60-day DL.