WASHINGTON, D.C. - One loss away from elimination, the Washington Nationals ended up looking for some ninth-inning magic, a little of that Raul Ibanez mojo that occurred Wednesday night in the Bronx.
They found it in the bat of Jayson Werth.
Waging a 13-pitch battle with reliever Lance Lynn, Werth, leading off the inning, won the war as he connected on pitch No. 13 and sent it into the St. Louis bullpen to supply the Nats with a 2-1 walk-off win over the Cardinals.
The triumph evened their best-of-five division series at 2-2 with the deciding game set for Friday evening at Nationals Park.
Following their 8-0 stinker at the hands of the Cardinals the day before, Werth was a beacon of optimism in the otherwise gloomy Nats clubhouse.
“I definitely feel good about the spot we’re in,” he declared Wednesday despite his club being one loss away from elimination.
He kept those positive vibes going in his one-on-one battle with Lynn.
“Doesn’t matter how much you lose or how much you lose by, it’s 0-0 starting the game the next day,” Werth reasoned. “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.”
In his at-bat with Lynn, Werth started fouling off pitches once the count reached 2-2.
“I think he threw a hook 2-2 to get to 3-2 and I figured from then I wasn’t going to get off the heater, fouled a couple more off and finally got one to hit,” Werth said. “It was fastball. He’s got a good fastball. Like I said, after that 2-2 hook it was pretty close. After that, I was on the heater.”
Werth arrived with the Nationals as a free agent in 2011 following some heady seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies. When the Nats presented him with a seven-year, $126-million contract, many in the industry thought the team was nuts.
Well, look who’s laughing now.
Ibanez and Werth are former teammates with the Phillies and Werth watched his buddy belt two into the night against the Orioles on Wednesday.
“I watched all the games last night and the walk-offs and baseball this time of year is the best time for sports,” Werth said. “I love October baseball. I was sitting at home and watching the Yankee game and I saw what Raul did and I probably texted him 20 times last night congratulating him and that was awesome.
“You know, here we are a day later and I got an opportunity and came through.”
The blow was a punch in the gut to the Cardinals, who, like the Nats, managed just three hits the entire game. A veteran and resilient team, the Cards can take the shot and still get ready for Friday’s make-or-break game that will feature Adam Wainwright on the mound for the Cards against the Nats’ Gio Gonzalez.
“We’ve had a very large amount of heartbreakers this year and I think that’s really been used to develop the character of this team and the resiliency,” Cards manager Mike Matheny said. “These guys realize that we’ve got an opportunity to come back and play another game. They do shed it pretty quick.
“So it’s a tough one, but we’re still alive to play another game.”
Both teams got the starting pitching they were looking for Thursday.
The Nats, who had been shaky in that department this series, turned to lefty Ross Detwiler, who during the season took the spot formerly held by ace Stephen Strasburg in their rotation.
Detwiler delivered six solid innings Thursday, allowing just three hits and one unearned run.
The Nats bullpen took it from there and delivered three shutout innings where they struck out a combined eight batters.
“I was so proud of him,” Washington manager Davey Johnson said of his starter. “He was outstanding. Unbelievable. Won the game for us.”
On the Cardinals side, Kyle Lohse allowed a solo homer by Adam LaRoche in the second and a single in the fourth. That was it in his seven innings.
Werth, for one, can’t wait for Game 5 to start.
“It will be a lot like today,” he said. “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. We have a chance tomorrow to take that next step. I know my teammates will be ready and the city will too.
“Ball’s in our court. We’ve got a chance to win the series tomorrow. What a difference a day makes.”
What a difference one glorious swing makes.
Matheny pays for passing over Motte
In the ninth inning of a tie game, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny put his faith in right-hander Lance Lynn.
One batter and 13 pitches later, Jayson Werth connected and sent a shot into the Cardinals bullpen to supply a stunning walkoff home run.
The ninth inning is not Lynn’s comfort zone as over the regular season he made 29 starts and six relief appearances. Coming out of the bullpen he finished but two games.
The Cards pitcher, who thrives in the ninth, is their closer, Jason Motte, who finished the regular season with 42 saves.
So why Lynn in the ninth and not Motte?
It’s Baseball 101.
“If we were at home, it would have been a very easy decision to bring in Motte,” Matheny said. “We are looking at a team that had every save of our season by Jason Motte and we take a lead there at any point, you’re asking one of our guys, especially one of our young guys, who have never been in that situation to come in and close out a game and that’s a lot to ask.
“But we had a lot of confidence in Lance. He came in throwing the ball well. Werth just put together a very good at-bat.”
That’s the understatement of the Series.