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From Teddy's mouth to Nats' ears

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From Teddy's mouth to Nats' ears

In a disconsolate clubhouse following Game 3 of the National League Division Series, Mark DeRosa suggested he might have a few words to say to his Nationals teammates before they took the field the following night with elimination staring them in the face.

So Thursday afternoon, DeRosa turned on the karaoke machine that has sat in his locker most of the season, grabbed the microphone and began reading an inspirational speech he's been reading to himself before big games since he played at the University of Pennsylvania.

Among the salient passages: "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood."

When he finished the famous speech -- with perhaps a couple of unprintable words sprinkled in for maximum effect -- DeRosa paused and uttered the most important line of all.

"You know who spoke these words?" the veteran utilityman said. "Teddy Effin Roosevelt."

Yes, the speech that helped save the Nationals' season was "The Man in the Arena" by none other than the Rough Rider, The Bull Moose, the Trust Buster, the 26th President of the United States and the man whose caricature's futility in the nightly mascot race at Nationals Park for nearly seven years came to embody this franchise's woeful existence. At least, until he finally won the fourth-inning race on the season's final day and has proceeded to win it twice more in the postseason.

"I mean, it's fitting," DeRosa said. "It's perfect."

Hey, whatever works.

And there's no denying the effect the surprise pregame speech had on the Nationals in advance of the most important game they'd ever played. Across the board, players said DeRosa's speech struck the perfect balance between serious motivation and laugh-out-loud hysterics.

And no one was more impressed than Jayson Werth, the eventual hero of a 2-1 victory with his bottom-of-the-ninth homer off Lance Lynn and resident expert on all things Teddy (both the actual president and his racing mascot).

"I actually know that speech real well," said Werth, who was in the training room when he heard DeRosa begin his recitation. "I think it's a good one. It's kind of very parallel to the world we live in today. Not only that, but the fact Teddy gets disrespected for however many years it was. When I did some research on Teddy last year, I ran across that and I found it to be a very powerful segment of that speech. So when I heard D-Ro with some of that stuff, I was like: 'Somebody <i>finally</i> is reading this aloud in our clubhouse. I thought it was good."

Good enough to propel the Nationals all the way to victory in this series and to send them off to the NLCS against the Giants? Perhaps, though credit should probably be given more to the performance of a host of players in Game 4 than to the words that were spoken before they ever took the field.

Make no mistake, the Nationals are still alive because of Ross Detwiler, because of Adam LaRoche, because of Jordan Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen and -- most importantly -- because of Werth.

Put that all together and the Nationals now get the opportunity to host a decisive Game 5 tonight against the Cardinals, the momentum having suddenly and forcefully swung back in their favor.

"We knew this was a huge game for us," Clippard said. "We're at home. To get the momentum back, to win this game today and get it tied knowing that a win tomorrow gets us to the next level. The momentum is definitely on our side, and that's how we wanted it to happen."

Momentum in baseball, though, can a funny thing. Managers love to say momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher. So another rocky outing from Gio Gonzalez could kill the positive vibes altogether and tilt the pendulum back to the Cardinals.

The Nationals understand they can't just ride the emotion from Game 4 and assume it will carry them through Game 5.

"You shouldn't discount a win like that," Ryan Zimmerman said. "That's a heck of a win. To come back after yesterday, against a team like that, with a really good pitcher on the mound ... they had everything set up going their way. They blew us out yesterday. They had a 16-game winner on the mound. And Ross matched him. For him to do that and for us to grind out a win like that today and get to tomorrow -- which was the goal -- we'll enjoy it.

"But this win doesn't get us anything tomorrow. We'll wake up tomorrow and forget about this and get back to tomorrow and hopefully win tomorrow."

If anyone knows anything about the power of postseason momentum, it's the team currently occupying the visitors clubhouse at Nationals Park.

The Cardinals pulled off a similar feat in last fall's World Series, storming back to beat the Rangers in a dramatic Game 6 capped by David Freese's walk-off homer at Busch Stadium. They returned the following night for Game 7 and cruised to a 6-2 victory and a champagne celebration.

"I think you wipe it clean," Storen insisted. "I think we had a great approach today that you don't let the last couple days affect you. You can say that's great, we had a good time. We know how we got there. But tomorrow when we show up, we've got a new approach and we're going to be ready to battle. Because it's going to be ugly tomorrow, but it's going to be a lot of fun."

Indeed, there's nothing quite like a winner-take-all ballgame. Gonzalez and Adam Wainwright may be given the ball to start the game, but it'll be all hands on deck for both clubs.

That applies, of course, to the field of play. Does it apply to the choice of pregame speeches?

Will DeRosa offer a repeat rendition from Teddy?

"I don't think," he said. "I mean, if we don't realize what's at stake tomorrow..."

Don't worry, Mark. Everyone realizes what's at stake now.

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Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

The Nationals played their first game of spring training today against the Mets. They won, but that's not nearly the biggest story of the day. It was Bryce Harper's first at-bat that stole the show. 

On just the second pitch he saw of spring training, from lefty Sean Gilmartin, Harper mashed a ginormous home run to right center field. MLB.com shared video of the bomb. 

According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Harper smacked the ball at least 400 feet. In his second at-bat, he hit a line-drive single on the first pitch. 

Let's just say it was an exciting start to the year for Harper, who won the 2015 NL MVP only to endure a let-down last season. As Castillo points out, the slugger hit .226 against left-handed pitchers in 2016. 

Harper enters spring training at 230 pounds, up 15 pounds of muscle from last year. 

“I just felt going into the offseason you want to get as strong as you can, try to maintain your weight the best you can and just do everything the right way,” he told the Post. 

MORE NATIONALS: Baker thinks DC sports teams can win a championship this year

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Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals manager Dusty Baker is back for a second year and feeling optimistic for his Washington team. Spring training has begun in Florida and it has Baker thinking about how the Nats can create some excitement for local sports fans.

In an interview with American University’s WAMU radio station, Baker said D.C. wants to be a "city of champions.” Furthermore, he thinks it can be pulled off before the year ends.

"I came here to win a championship and you know I would love nothing more than to bring one to Washington. Washington, I didn’t know it before I got there, but it’s had a tough time getting out of the first round in a number of sports."

He projected the Nationals to bring home the next championship for the District, but he knows they have competition of late. 

"Washington Wizards are looking pretty good. I’m pulling for them first because their season ends before ours, so I’ve been really following them. The Capitals have a good thing going. I started watching the Redskins more this year.

"You know once it gets contagious in a city and you get a positive attitude throughout the city, then it transfers to the sports teams. So we want to be known as a city of champions, before the end of the year hopefully."

Baker has a reputation for bringing out the best in his teams, especially managing star players. He managed the San Francisco Giants for ten seasons before moving on to the Chicago Cubs, a team he managed for four seasons.

He's never won a World Series, but has taken a team to Game 7. He also finished third for the 2016 National League Manager of the Year award.

So, what are Baker’s steps for the Nationals to get that ultimate prize? A simple formula, really.

"I think that we’ve got to stay healthy, number one. We’re trying to fill the holes that we need to fill, and we’ve got to play," he said. "You know last year we were very close, we were one hit away or one play away or one pitch away from going to the next round against the Cubs."

While he says he came to win Washington a championship, he's also enjoying his time in the city. 

"I love D.C. Before that, San Francisco was my favorite town; that’s my home. But I tell you, D.C. is definitely in the running," he said. "I thought San Francisco had the best seafood, but man, you guys have the best seafood I think in the world."

Thanks, Dusty!

The Nationals play their first spring training game against the New York mets on Saturday.

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