WASHINGTON – The Washington Nationals signed Jayson Werth to show them how to win. His game-ending homer Thursday night extended their surprising season.
Werth led off the bottom of the ninth inning by driving Lance Lynn’s 13th pitch into the left-field stands to give the Nationals a 2-1 victory over the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals and force a Game 5 in their N.L. division series.
As he circled the bases, Werth raised his right index finger in a “No. 1” gesture, while the announced crowd of 44,392 roared. The other Nationals raced out of the dugout to greet Werth, who tossed his red batting helmet high in the air before jumping on home plate and being enveloped by a bouncing collection of thrilled teammates.
The best-of-5 series will end tonight in Washington, with the winner advancing to face the San Francisco Giants in the N.L. Championship Series. The starters will provide a rematch of Game 1, which Washington won, with Gio Gonzalez on the mound for the Nationals, and Adam Wainwright for the Cardinals.
“It will be a lot like today. It’s what it’s all about. It’s what you play all season for and what you work out all winter for and what you get to spring training early for,” Werth said. “We have a chance tomorrow to take that next step. I know my teammates will be ready and the city will, too.”
The homer was Werth’s first with the Nationals but 14th of his career in the postseason. He won the 2008 World Series and a string of division titles with the Philadelphia Phillies before moving to Washington as a free agent before last season on a $126 million contract that stunned much of baseball.
He gets a ton of credit for helping steer a quick turnaround: The Nationals lost 100 games in 2008 and 2009, but led the majors with 98 wins and won their division this year.
“When I signed here, my first day here, I went to a Capitals game, a hockey game, (and) the place was packed. Somebody said, ‘Just a few short years ago, this place was empty.’ So I knew that a winning ballclub would bring the fans,” Werth said, “and here we are, two years later and they’re showing up and it’s awesome.”
Werth’s shot provided a sudden end to a classic postseason contest filled with tremendous pitching. Each team managed only three hits.
Lynn, usually a starter for St. Louis but a reliever in these playoffs, was making his third appearance of this series. He was the Cardinals’ third pitcher – and faced only one batter – and manager Mike Matheny was asked afterward why he didn’t use closer Jason Motte.
“If we were at home, it would have been a very easy decision to bring in Motte,” Matheny said, explaining that if he used up his closer and St. Louis went ahead later in the game, a reliever not used to getting a save would have needed to try.
“Had a lot of confidence in Lance. He came in throwing the ball well. Werth just put together a very good at-bat,” Matheny added.
Cardinals batters did not down the stretch. They made eight consecutive outs via strikeouts against three Nationals pitchers – Jordan Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, who threw the top of the ninth and got the win.
Storen walked No. 8 hitter Pete Kozma with two outs, before getting pinch hitter Matt Carpenter out on a twisting, stumbling overhead catch by shortstop Ian Desmond, who wound up sliding on his belly in short left field. When Desmond rose, he threw the ball into the stands and yelled.
Moments later, Werth had all the red-clad, towel-twirling spectators yelling, too, thanks to the way he turned on a 96 mph fastball.