Nationals vs. Phillies: Jayson Werth leads win in his first game against former team

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post - Nationals reliever Sean Burnett is momentarily stunned by a call on the basepaths Tuesday at Nationals Park. Burnett pitches 1 2/3 innings to earn his third save.

As he jogged down the third base line, the final leg of his home run trot in the fifth inning Tuesday night, the cheers from the Nationals Park stands for Jayson Werth, for the first time all night, began to drown out the boos. “I didn’t really notice,” Werth said. “Once the game starts, you kind of zone out all the external stuff.”

In the Washington Nationals’ bullpen, they noticed. So many Philadelphia Phillies fans had gathered nearby, in the section behind right field, Werth’s position. “I don’t think that was an accident,” reliever Tyler Clippard said. “And then once he hit the home run, they quieted right down. It was awesome. I loved it.”

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Werth saved his best game yet for Tuesday, his first meeting against the team he spent the last four seasons with, a 7-4 Nationals victory that evened their record at 5-5. Werth silenced those among the 13,413 who motored south on Interstate 95 to jeer him by going 2 for 3 with a solo home run, a double, a walk, two runs and a steal.

“Was it extra special against those guys?” Werth asked. “Probably a little bit.”

Defiance was the theme of the Nationals’ victory, and not only for Werth. Sitting in his office some three hours before the Nationals took the field, Manager Jim Riggleman scrawled three separate lineups. None of them contained his best player, Ryan Zimmerman, who had been placed on the 15-day disabled list. One of them was also missing his left fielder, one of them was also missing his first baseman and one was missing all three. Riggleman shrugged confidently. “Whatever lineup I put out there,” he said, “I’m going to feel good about it.”

Turned out, Michael Morse was too sick to play and trainers ruled out Adam LaRoche. So the Nationals took the field against the four-time defending National League East champion, the bully from the north that had beaten them 51 times in 72 tries, with one-third of their lineup sidelined. And, as Werth led the way after his old fans booed him in his new home, the Nationals thrashed them.

“That’s the team everyone is gunning for, especially in this division,” Clippard said. “We definitely showed them tonight we’re a different ballclub. They’re not going to back down at all. Neither are we. Hopefully, they realize that.”

Werth received ample assistance. Starter Livan Hernandez allowed one run in 6 2 / 3 innings and also dropped an RBI safety squeeze bunt. The veteran lineup fill-ins chipped in, with third baseman Jerry Hairston delivering an RBI single and left fielder Laynce Nix knocking two hits.

“You know it’s going to take 25 guys,” Hairston said. “With guys like Zim going down, the guys they brought in, veteran guys, need to step up.”

From the moment he signed his seven-year, $126 million contract, Werth has vowed to change the perception of the Nationals. The Phillies still rule the division; one game cannot change that. But one game showed that, with Werth on their side, the Nationals are at least going to fight back.

“The only way to change culture here in Washington, D.C., with this team is to win,” Werth said. “It was a big win tonight, but we’ve got to continue to do it. We’ve got to win a lot, not just play .500 ball or not finish in last place.”

Said Clippard: “He brings that leadership, that winning attitude, everything. We love him over here.”

Werth cherishes the bonds he formed playing four years, and winning 25 postseason games, with Philadelphia. “You can’t take away what happened,” he said. Before the game, outside the batting cage behind the visitors clubhouse, Werth chatted with Raul Ibanez. When he spotted Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel in the tunnel, Werth hugged him. “You got heavier pockets now,” Manuel drawled. Werth laughed.

Afterward, Werth joked, “I was just trying to perform well for Charlie. He hasn’t seen me in a while.”

Werth experienced the strange sensation of getting booed by his former fans at his new park, but he expected it. “I knew what I was getting myself into,” he said. One Philadelphia radio station held a promotion in which it gave away front-row seats in right field for the express purpose of booing Werth. Every time the Phillies flied out to right — four of their first eight batters did that — the crowd showered Werth with boos.

After he grounded out in his first at-bat, Werth sparked the rally that transformed the game. With the score tied at 1, he scalded a double to left to lead off the fourth. Wilson Ramos crushed a double of his own to right-center, giving the Nationals the lead. Nix hit an infield single, Danny Espinosa walked and Hairston shot a bases-loaded RBI single to left.

With the bases still loaded, Hernandez noticed first baseman Ryan Howard playing back and, without anyone knowing, dropped a squeeze bunt. He placed it so well the force at home plate was irrelevant when Blanton picked the ball between the mound and the first base line. Already, the Nationals have executed three successful squeeze bunts.

“It came out a little soft,” Hernandez said. “It was supposed to go more to first base. But, you know, it came out perfect.”

With two outs in the ninth, Nationals fans stood and clapped. When the final out settled in Ian Desmond’s glove, Werth lined up and shook hands with teammates. The Nationals have to face Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee the next two days. This may not yet be a fair fight, but at least now both sides are throwing punches.

 
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