Taylor 'huge part' of Nats' success thus far

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ST. LOUIS -- Off the bat, Michael A. TaylorMichael A. thought José Martínez's smash was a routine bloop to center field. The crowd at Busch Stadium was loud by that point in Saturday afternoon's Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, regaining life after Taylor’s third-inning homer had quieted it. Unable to hear the crack of Martínez’s bat amidst the din, Taylor instead tried to read his swing -- a bit early, a bit unbalanced.

The ball, however, was not a bloop but a 101 mph line drive; by the time Taylor realized that, it was already soaring over his head for an RBI double off Sean Doolittle. This was the type of hit that could have spoiled a banner game for Taylor and a significant win for the Nationals, at least until Doolittle restored order by retiring the next batter on one momentum-killing pitch.

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Back in the dugout, Doolittle sought out Taylor to embrace him in a hug.

“He was right in the middle of everything that we were doing today,” Doolittle said. “I just wanted him to know that I love him, and not to second-guess anything.”

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 11 WSH 2, STL 0 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 12 WSH 3, STL 1 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 14 WSH 8, STL 1 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 15 WSH 7, STL 4 Watch

One play, Doolittle knew, could not erase Taylor’s contributions to the Nats. Continuing to sub for injured outfielder Victor Robles, Taylor homered to plate the first run of the Nationals’ 3-1 win over the Cardinals, then singled to supply two of Washington’s four hits off Adam Wainwright through seven innings.

“The more you’re here, the more you get comfortable in these situations when the stadium gets loud and there’s a lot of pressure,” Taylor said. “Just trying to slow it down and play the game as normal as possible, I think is big.”

Consider Taylor a growing expert on the matter. In his first extended taste of postseason play two years ago, Taylor hit a grand slam in NL Division Series Game 4 against the Dodgers, then a three-run homer in Game 5. This year, Taylor’s importance grew when Robles strained his right hamstring in NLDS Game 2. Starting daily in center field as a result, Taylor reached base five times in the final three games of that series, making a diving catch of Justin Turner’s bloop for the final out in Game 5.

Saturday, Taylor added a home run and a two-hit game to his resume. And his defensive miscue proved unimpactful, thanks to Adam Eaton’s two-run double in the top of the eighth.

“It’s a great feeling,” Taylor said. “When you’re in that situation, you’re able to breathe a little bit knowing that you have the lead.”

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It’s possible Robles will return to the Nationals’ starting outfield for Game 3 in Washington, likely pushing Taylor back to the bench. That’s routine for a player who spent a good chunk of the season at Double-A Harrisburg, and appeared in nearly twice as many big league games as a substitute than a starter. Marginalized by the healthy trio of Robles, Eaton and Juan Soto, Taylor provided most of his value via defense and baserunning, prompting Doolittle to praise his teammate as “an incredible center fielder … a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder.”

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It’s just that some days, especially in October, Taylor’s value does not end there.

When manager Dave Martinez said last week that subbing Taylor for Robles would not affect the Nationals much offensively, it seemed like manager-speak. At his best, Robles offers more power, more consistency, more on-base skill. Yet Taylor has since made his manager’s words seem prophetic.

“Mikey,” said Doolittle, “has been a huge part of what we’ve been able to accomplish.”

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