MIAMI -- Rarely does Tyler Clippard enter a ballgame with the Nationals leading by more than three runs. So perhaps he merely wanted to feel more at home yesterday when he entered for the bottom of the ninth holding a 4-0 lead and then immediately loaded the bases to bring the tying run to plate.
"No, I didn't want to do that at all," Clippard said with a laugh afterward.
He could afford to smile about the situation because he had somehow managed to wriggle his way out of the self-inflicted jam. After surrendering a leadoff single to Greg Dobbs and then issuing back-to-back walks to Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck, Clippard calmly struck out Justin Ruggiano. Then he got Jose Reyes to pop out to the catcher and Omar Infante to loft a foul out down the right-field line, with Bryce Harper surviving a collision with Steve Lombardozzi to snag the ball and secure the Nationals' victory.
So what really happened to Clippard during that harrowing bottom of the ninth?
"I probably took a little bit for granted the length of the previous inning," he said. "I don't think I threw enough pitches as I needed to get loose in the bullpen. That's on me. I just kind of battled out there today."
Indeed, the top of the ninth lasted only four pitches, with Marlins reliever Mike Dunn dispatching of the Nationals with ease. Still, there's some reason to question whether Clippard simply doesn't perform as well when the stakes aren't quite as high.
The stats actually support that theory. Twenty-five of his 40 appearances this season have come in what's defined as a save situation: either with the Nats leading by three or fewer runs at the start of an inning, or with the tying run on deck during an inning. In those 25 games, Clippard owns an 0.74 ERA, .120 opponents' batting average and a ridiculously low 0.740 WHIP.
However, in his 15 non-save-situation appearances, his ERA climbs to 3.60 with a .208 opponents' batting average and 1.333 WHIP.
Is there a mental switch that goes off once you find yourself in a scenario where one swing can change the outcome of the game?
"Pretty much," Clippard said. "All the other thoughts are out the window, and you're just kind of locking back in. You can't really worry about or think about what you did good or bad prior to that situation. You can't change it. You're in it."
Fortunately for the Nationals, Clippard was able to flip the switch and escape the jam. He wasn't credited with a save, because you can't create your own save situation, but he certainly saved that game from becoming a complete disaster.
"Things happen fast," he said. "At this level, that's something that I've experienced in the past. I took that experience out there and kind of just bore down, and luckily enough I made some pitches that I needed to in those big spots and got out of it."