“That’s the way that game should have ended.” Nats manager Davey Johnson
“That was loud as I’ve ever heard a place.” Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright
Jayson Werth saw everything that Lance Lynn had. For 12 pitches, he fought off pitch after pitch. Werth looked at a curveball — on pitch 11 — that didn’t miss by much for a ball to run the count full. After one more foul ball, Lynn — an 18-game winner and All-Star starter for the St. Louis Cardinals this season — left one a little too far over the plate. Werth put a perfect swing on the 96-MPH offering and delivered it to the back of the Cards bullpen in left center, giving the Washington Nationals a 2-1 victory in Game 4 of the National League Division Series and forcing Game 5, to be played Friday night at Nats Park at 8:37 pm.
You want excitement? Try watching this.
“[Lynn]‘s tough,” Werth said after. “We’ve faced him a lot over September and in the series. So I knew what he had. But I think he threw a hook, 2-2, to get to 3-2, and I figured from there I wasn’t going to get off the heater. Fouled a couple more off and finally got one to hit.”
So how big was this one in Werth’s personal collection? “You know,” he replied,”I can’t even remember any of the other ones right now. This one’s pretty fresh. This is, given the situation, definitely pretty big.”
“He’s a remarkable guy,” Nats skipper Davey Johnson said of Werth. “He can force a pitcher to throw a lot of pitches, and he did that time.”
Werth’s heroics would not have been possible without the performance of Ross Detwiler and a trio of hard-throwing relievers — including Jordan Zimmermann, making the first relief appearance of his young career.
Detwiler, the Nationals nominal fifth starter and pitcher most commonly referred to as “replacing” ace Stephen Strasburg in the Nats playoff rotation, was simply brilliant. He did not have gaudy strikeout numbers (he only fanned three), but he limited the Cardinals offense to three hits and three walks over six strong innings. The only run the Cardinals pushed across came via one of those walks (to No. 8 hitter Pete Kozma), an error on a ground ball to Ian Desmond, and a sacrifice fly.
Other than that, Detwiler kept the ball out of the middle of the plate and Cardinals hitters off base.
“I tell you,” Johnson said, “I was proud of him. He pitched. He didn’t start the game overthrowing. He pitched.”
“He was outstanding. Unbelievable. Won the game for us.”
After Detwiler departed, Johnson called first on Zimmermann, who was roughed up in Game 2. On his normal day to throw a side session, Zimmermann was sent to the pen in case Detwiler struggled early. But with Detwiler’s strong performance, Zimmermann then became a weapon the veteran manager could employ strategically instead of out of necessity.
“He came in, and I mean, he was hyped,” Johnson said of his starter-turned-reliever. “That’s the hardest I’ve seen him throw all year.”
Zimmermann channelled that energy — and probably a little left over frustration from Monday’s pounding — to strike out the side in the seventh inning, hitting 97 MPH on the radar at times. “I mean, his slider was like 91, and he just — some guys in our club said, ‘That’s our next closer.’ I said, ‘No way.’”
After that, Tyler Clippard — he of the 32 saves this season — came on and struck out the side as well in the eighth. Drew Storen struck out the first two in the top of the ninth, to make eight straight outs via strikeout, before he popped up Matt Carpenter to end the inning, setting the stage for the biggest at bat in a season full of them.
THE TAKEAWAY: Now THAT was playoff baseball. Good pitching. Tension. A walk-off winner. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s good for the soul. Some are already calling Werth’s homer the greatest sports moment in the city in recent memory. While I think that sells short a lot of moments the Caps have had in the Ovechkin era (Winter Classic, the Fedorov winner just to name two off the top of my head), it was way up there and the park just exploded as soon as the ball left the bat.
The crowds have been tremendous the last two games. Loud, involved, appreciative, standing-room only, red. Most folks stood for every two-strike count. They stood for the entirety of the Nats at bats in the eighth and ninth. It’s just great to see the Nats Park crowd look — and feel — like a playoff crowd in a baseball city.
Werth said it best: “You know, our fans have been great. They have been showing up in record numbers. When I signed here, my first day here, I went to a Capitals game, which the place was packed. Somebody said, ‘Just a few short years ago [Verizon Center] was empty.’ So I knew that a winning ballclub would bring the fans. Here we are, two years later and they’re showing up and it’s awesome.”
THE GOOD: Adam LaRoche. His solo home run was all the Nats offense could muster up until Werth’s heroics.
THE BAD: Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa. Both batters are struggling terribly. Both went 0-for-3 last night.Harper’s hitting .056 in the series and Espinosa is .083.
THE UGLY: Jim Joyce’s strike zone. In a word — terrible. He was bad for both teams. It seemed like every time there was a called strike it was wrong, at least according to the broadcast pitch-track. Matt Holliday was called out on strikes against Clippard in the eighth on three pitches, all called strikes, none of which were in the pitch-track box. Holliday slumped on strike three, and laughed as he went back to the dugout.
THE STATS: 3 hits, 2 BBs, 6 Ks. 0-for-0 with RISP, 2 LOB, 1 GIDP (Morse). E: Desmond (1), no DPs.
FIRST PITCH: Frank Howard threw out the ceremonial first pitch. [Photos]
NEXT GAME: Game 5 Friday night at 8:30 pm at Nats Park against the Cardinals. Gio Gonzalez (21-8, 2.89; 0-0, 3.60) hosts Adam Wainright (14-13, 3.94; 0-1, 1.59).
Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Nationals coverage on Twitter @NationalsDSP.