Top 12 of ‘12: #1 – Werth Walks Off
Their backs against the wall, trailing the defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals two-games-to-one in the best-of-five National League Division Series, the Washington Nationals needed a hero to keep their season alive. A nervous energy reverberated through Nationals Park around the 4:07 p.m. first pitch, one that only built as a 1-1 contest remained deadlocked late into the game. After six solid innings, Ross Detwiler turned the ball over to the bullpen, handing the reins to Game 2 starter Jordan Zimmermann, pitching in relief for the first time in his Major League career.
While that may have seemed like a bold move by manager Davey Johnson, there was something in the air on that night of October 11 in D.C. Zimmermann ignited the hometown crowd of more than 44,000 by punching out the side, pumping his fist as he came off the mound. Tyler Clippard did the same in the eighth, whiffing Carlos Beltran, Matt Holiday and Yadier Molina. Drew Storen struck out two more in the ninth, the fans reaching a fever pitch as the game went to the bottom of the ninth still level at 1-1 and the top of the Nationals lineup due to lead off.
Enter Jayson Werth. Hitless in three plate appearances so far, the grizzled veteran dug in against Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn and quickly fell behind 0-2 in the count. But he stayed alive, spoiling off anything Lynn could throw at him, not biting on breaking balls out of the zone as he worked deeper in the count. On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, he skied a foul ball toward the Nationals dugout, with the catcher Molina and first baseman Allen Craig converging near the rail. But the ball came down just out of reach, then ricocheted off a bench in the Nationals dugout, hitting Craig in the face on the rebound. Second life given, the electricity built once more, through two more fouls on pitches nine and 10, and a close take on the 11th offering from Lynn. After one more high foul pop into the stands on pitch number 12, the stage had been set.
In the ninth inning, in the 10th month, on the 11th day, in the 12th year, Werth dug in for the 13th pitch of the at-bat. At that moment, Nationals radio man Charlie Slowes recalled on the air a time, a month or so earlier against the Marlins, when Werth battled through a similarly long at-bat to lead off the bottom of the ninth, only to homer off Heath Bell to tie the game. Lynn set and delivered a fastball that started over the outside corner, but ran back toward the middle of the plate. Werth was not about to foul this one off. His laser beam to left field kept rising and rising as it pierced through the October night, the wave of realization sweeping from home plate to the visitor’s bullpen – where the ball clanked off the back wall – that this playoff battle had been finished in the most dramatic moment of this young franchise’s history.