WASHINGTON -- Baseball Hall of Famer Frank Robinson threw out the first pitch before Game 3 of the National League Division Series between the Nationals and Cardinals on Wednesday afternoon.
Robinson wore his old No. 20 jersey and threw a strike to shortstop Ian Desmond, and the former Washington manager received a nice standing ovation from the sellout crowd.
Robinson felt honored that the Nationals asked him to throw out the first pitch.
"It was quite an honor," Robinson said. "I enjoyed doing it. I thank the Lerner family for asking me to do it."
Robinson then had a question-and-answer session with the fans at the Stars and Stripes Club, and he said afterward that he appreciated how much he meant to Nationals fans.
"It was a very nice moment, but the fans are ... one of the reasons it was so nice being here and managing here," Robinson said. "They were excited today, sure. But it was nice to hear them say the nice things they had to say. They deserve what's happening here today."
Robinson was the Nats' first manager, guiding them to a combined 152-172 record in 2005 and '06. His best season was in '05, when the club went 81-81 and was in the pennant race until the middle of September. Robinson also managed the Expos from '02-04, having a record above .500 in two of those three years.
"There were exciting times in the two years that we spent [in Washington], especially the first half of the first year," Robinson said. "It was great. It was exciting. It was good for the fans, because people said baseball wouldn't go here, with the Orioles just down the way. I told them they were wrong. They have great baseball fans here, and if you put a good product out there, they will come out and root for the team. It's great to see it, and it's well deserved."
Nationals manager Davey Johnson said it was great to see Robinson back at Nationals Park throwing out the first pitch. It also brought back memories to Johnson when the two played together with the Orioles in the 1960s and '70s. They won two World Series titles together, and Johnson credits Robinson for winning those titles in 1966 and '70.
"Frank is one of the greatest players I've ever been associated with," Johnson said. "When I think of Frank Robinson, I think of the first time I ever saw him. He came into Spring Training, and we had a game going on in Miami. ... He went and got his uniform on, had not had batting practice, and I remember it like it was yesterday, he hit one out of the ballpark. All of us turned to each other and said, 'We've got something here.' And, of course, he went on to win the Triple Crown.
"Robinson played the game hard, played the game right, and he was a big influence on me and the whole ballclub. We had a pretty good run with him there. I respect him and I think a lot of him. I think he's been just an outstanding example of a true professional."
Robinson gave Desmond his first chance make the team out of Spring Training in 2005. Desmond wears No. 20 in honor of the Hall of Famer.
"It's cool. It'll be fun to get to talk to him and poke at each other a little bit," Desmond said. "When he signed up [to manage the Nationals], he had this [throwing out the first pitch] in mind. I think he wanted to start something, and he did. He's got his stamp on this organization forever, and I'm forever indebted to him, and I think D.C. will be also."
Robinson is touched that Desmond wears the number in his honor.
"He has worn the number well," Robinson said. "I hope he has good luck with it for the future."
Robinson is not surprised to see the Nationals in the playoffs this year. It helps, according to Robinson, that the Nats built a strong farm system.
"[General manager Mike Rizzo] and his staff have done a tremendous job rebuilding the Minor League system and developing the young players and mixing them in with some veteran players," Robinson said. "The coaching staff has done an outstanding job. It came a little quicker than I thought it would, but after last year, I felt good about this franchise. I thought they would have an opportunity to something, if not this year, then next year. So it came a year sooner."
Stammen among Nats feeling under the weather
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals returned home to play their first postseason game at Nationals Park on Wednesday, and they may have brought the flu bug with them.
Washington manager Davey Johnson revealed before Game 3 that reliever Craig Stammen had been fighting some sort of illness when the team was in St. Louis for the first two games of the National League Division Series, and center fielder Bryce Harper caught it as well.
A Washington Post report on Monday indicated that Harper was battling strep throat, but there had been no mention of Stammen's condition. Johnson didn't know the specifics of the illness and said Stammen didn't mention it to anybody, including the team's trainers.
"I think it's going around. Stammen had it in St. Louis," Johnson said. "If one guy has it, other guys are going to get it. But ... I don't care if [Harper's] got a fever, if he wants to play, he'll be fine."
Stammen pitched in both games at Busch Stadium, allowing two hits and hitting two batters in one inning of work in Game 1, only to have Ryan Mattheus bail him out by recording three outs on two pitches. He struggled again in Game 2, giving up two runs on a home run and two walks while recording just one out.
Harper, meanwhile, went just 1-for-10 with six strikeouts over the first two games of the NLDS and got thrown out trying to advance from second to third on a sacrifice fly, killing a potential rally in Game 2. Harper saw plenty of pitches in both games and insisted he was fine, and Johnson agreed that an illness wouldn't hold the energetic 19-year-old back at this point in the postseason.
"I haven't heard from the trainers that he was really under the weather or anything," Johnson said. "I'm sure he's good to go."
Johnson not worried about Espinosa's struggles
WASHINGTON -- In the first two games of the National League Division Series, second baseman Danny Espinosa went 1-for-6 with three strikeouts. It didn't help that he couldn't see the ball because of the shadows at Busch Stadium.
Washington manager Davey Johnson said before Game 3 that he is not worried about Espinosa and that he expects the switch-hitter to have a good series the rest of the way at Nationals Park.
"He's just a young hitter, aggressive, tons of talent," Johnson said about Espinosa. "He just needs to stay within himself. He's made a lot of strides this year. The conditions in St. Louis were pretty tough. ... My guys, to a man, all had problems picking up the ball and the spin on the ball.
"Combined with a little inexperience, you can be overly aggressive. I don't hold that against him. He always feels like he's the right guy at the right time to do something, and a lot of times, he does. But it's just that inexperience, you can get overly aggressive, and he needs to be a little more patient. But I think you'll see a different hitter here. They are more comfortable here, track the ball better here."
During the regular season, Espinosa hit .254 with seven home runs and 26 RBIs at Nationals Park.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.