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NATIONALS: Late-Inning Game 4 Home Run Werth The Wait
WASHINGTON — The ball flew high into the air, pierced the nighttime October sky and landed past the left field fence in the visitors’ bullpen. The crowd cheered. A foghorn blared. Fireworks burst over Nationals Park.
Jayson Werth heard silence.
It seemed like an eternity, especially the way the game had gone. Werth continued to foul off pitches, seven in total, and on the 13th pitch of the at-bat, in the bottom of the ninth inning, Werth extended the Washington Nationals’ season with just one home run swing.
Crack. Roar. Quiet.
“I didn’t hear a thing,” Werth said.
Werth, no stranger to playoff success, rounded the bases with one finger in the air: one more day. He tossed his helmet as he approached home plate and leapt into a sea of welcoming teammates, punctuating the 2–1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of the National League Division Series with one assertive stomp.
“It was unbelievable,” manager Davey Johnson said. “Great effort on his part.”
With the victory, the Nationals, the team with the best record in the major leagues, will play one deciding game against the Cardinals tonight for the right to face San Francisco for the National League pennant. Gio Gonzalez, who started Game 1, will again oppose Adam Wainwright.
That Washington has such an opportunity seemed occasionally improbable. While the score had been tied since the third inning, the Nationals were incapable of breaking through.
Every step forward seemed to be matched by St. Louis: A second-inning home run by Adam LaRoche was answered by Carlos Beltran’s run-scoring sacrifice fly; Ross Detwiler’s six innings of three-hit ball were upstaged by Kyle Lohse allowing two hits over seven.
The Cardinals emphatically won the previous two games. Werth did so Thursday.
“[It] doesn’t matter how much you lose by, it’s 0-0 starting the game the next day,” said Werth, who hit a low 96-mph fastball off Lance Lynn. “I just knew the type of mentality our club has, and the guys, they bring it every day. I knew that wasn’t going to get them down.”
Werth also knew about succeeding when given such an opportunity. He won the World Series with Philadelphia in 2008 and is one of only four players on the Nationals’ playoff roster who has postseason experience.
“They just kind of said to stick to it like a normal game,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “I think, obviously, once you get out there, it’s a little bit harder to do.”
That was Detwiler’s approach, as well. The rookie lefthander made the start only because Stephen Strasburg was shut down after reaching an innings limit in mid-September, and rather than focus on the magnitude of the moment, Detwiler tried to pretend it was any other start.
He allowed three hits, walked three and struck out two in six innings of work, and his 104 pitches were a career high.
“I felt like I was just trying to pound the zone with the fastball,” said Detwiler, who didn’t make it out of the third inning in his final regular-season start at St. Louis on Sept. 30. “It’s kind of been my mentality most of the year, and that’s how I found my success.”
Jordan Zimmermann, who struggled as the Game 2 starter and was making the first relief appearance of his career, was the first out of the bullpen, and he set the tone by striking out the side – Pete Kozma, Lohse and John Jay – on 12 pitches. His fastball topped out at an uncharacteristic 97 mph, which he hit three times, and he humiliated Lohse by sitting him down with a 91-mph slider.
Tyler Clippard entered in the eighth and he struck out three of the four batters he faced, as did Drew Storen, who earned the win, in the ninth.
Only third baseman David Freese, who singled in the third, and first baseman Allen Craig, who singled in the fourth and sixth, managed a hit for the Cardinals.
LaRoche’s third-inning home run, a leadoff shot to straightaway center field, and Zimmerman’s fourth-inning single were all the Nationals could muster through eight innings.
Then Werth stepped to the plate against in the ninth, and everything changed.
“This is, given the situation, definitely pretty big,” Werth said.
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