Jayson Werth and Co. take game one vs. Phillies
Right before the game started on Tuesday, Jayson Werth gave himself just a few seconds to notice the Phillies fans. When he finished completing his warm up throws with Bullpen Coach Jim Lett in the outfield, Werth turned around and looked up at the fans that had lined the first few rows of the right field seats. He simply nodded his head and turned around. He didn’t care what their signs read or what they shouted.
Werth knew what he was getting into on Tuesday night. He has been to Nationals Park before and witnessed how the Phillies faithful had infiltrated the park on Opening Day last year—something he plans on changing. The same Phillies fans that praised him last year and heckled Nyjer Morgan with vernacular that HBO might even edit, are now giving standing ovations to Phillies right fielder Ben Francisco and booing Werth. It is the life of a Phillies fan. They say hello by booing and goodbye the same way.
“They’re Philly fans,” Jerry Hairston Jr. said. “Obviously, Philly is known to be hard on their own players. I knew Jayson kind of expected it. It’s to be expected. I can’t wait until we go back to Philly.”
The Phillies fan booed every time the ball was hit to right field. They showered Werth with boos every time he walked to the plate but they weren’t quite loud enough to drown out his at-bat song “November Rain.” In the bottom of the fifth, Werth silenced his critics by hitting a home run, clearing the left field fence by a few inches.
“Was it extra special against those guys?” Werth said. “Probably a little bit.”
That is also probably an understatement. How could it not be special? He was playing his former team and was booed by Phillies fans. There isn’t anything better than silencing your critics. The Nats bullpen sat in right field and listened to the Phillies fans for a few innings and they had heard enough.
“I haven’t pulled so hard for a guy to hit a home run in my life,” Sean Burnett said, who picked up his third save of the season. “It was something the bullpen really wanted, because we had to listen to those fans out there.”
Werth doesn’t plan on those fans being out there for long. He remembers how Citizens Bank Park was full of Mets fans four years ago, now it’s only Phillies fans. He expects Nationals Park to undergo the same transformation.
“The only way to change the culture here with this team in Washington, DC… is to win,” Werth said. “It was a big win tonight, but we’ve got to continue to do it. Essentially, we’re going to have to win a lot—not just play .500 ball or not finish in last place. You’re going to have to win a division, you’re going to have to win a Wild Card, and that takes work.”
It does take work but the Nats are planning on changing it one pitch, one at-bat, one inning and one game at a time. It won’t happen overnight but you don’t eat an entire pig in one sitting either—one bite at a time is the only way to think of it. The win moved them to .500 for the first time this season but the Nats showed the Phillies—with a makeshift lineup and Livan Hernandez throwing 61 mph curveballs—this is a different Nats team. Werth still has 125 games against the Phillies over the course of the next seven years but right now the score is 1-0, advantage Werth.
One day Werth will turn around to see the fans when the Nats play the Phillies and it will just be Nationals fans. Today it’s a dream but one day it could be a reality.