When the Washington Nationals signed outfielder Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million deal this winter, they hoped he would bring as much of the leadership and experience from being a winner as he did offensive production.
Werth set the example on the base paths in the 10th inning of a 3-3 game Friday night at Nationals Park. Breaking out of the batter’s box after hitting a groundball with one out, he put enough pressure on Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt to force an errant throw, then made a heads-up play to advance to second base.
The evidence was there again when he jumped pitcher Zach Braddock’s delivery and stole third base, surprising even his teammate, Adam LaRoche, who was at the plate.
Finally, with Brewers third baseman Casey McGehee off the bag enough to give Werth even more confidence to bolt for home as soon as LaRoche put his bat on the ball, he slid across home plate and celebrated a 4-3 win on a fielder’s choice in front of 17,217 at Nationals Park. Werth has provided the type of leadership he, too, hoped to bring to the clubhouse in Washington.
“I think baseball’s contagious,” Werth said. “You get one guy moving in the right direction and then two and three. . . . We just need to keep playing the games hard, playing the right way and these kids, first couple years in the big leagues, they’ve got a lot of talent and lead by example is probably the best way to put it.”
Werth’s work on the base paths was enough to give the Nationals a win as a reward for another strong performance from their starting pitcher, Tom Gorzelanny, and yet despite blowing a lead in the ninth inning. Meanwhile, the offense, after facing two of the league’s aces in Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, did just enough against Brewers starter Chris Narveson who, though lacking the same star power, boasted a 0.00 ERA through his first two starts.
The Nationals’ lineup had been shaken up before the game, with shortstop Ian Desmond moved from the top of the order to seventh and second baseman Danny Espinosa shifting to the leadoff spot, but it was those that had not been affected that did the damage – with all of it coming in the second inning.
LaRoche led off the inning and quickly fell behind 0-2 in the count. Narveson couldn’t find the strike zone after that, however, throwing four straight balls, and LaRoche trotted to first.
Catcher Wilson Ramos then laced the first pitch he saw through the right side for a single. And when Milwaukee shifted the infield for left fielder Michael Morse, Morse responded by smacking a single through the hole at second base, a hit that normally would have been a routine double play but instead loaded the bases with no outs.
Narveson struck out Desmond and then worked a full count against Jerry Hairston Jr., but the veteran earned a walk when a fastball missed, scoring LaRoche.
The walk was critical with the Gorzelanny on deck, and the veteran stepped to the plate with just one out instead of two – and with Narveson unable to afford any mistakes.
After a visit to the mound, no one expected Narveson to do what he did, walking his counterpart on four consecutive pitches to score Ramos and double the Nationals’ lead.
“That was the first time I think I’ve got a four-pitch walk with the bases loaded,” Gorzelanny said, smiling. “It was a good thing. I was ready to swing.”
Espinosa’s sacrifice fly to left field scored Morse to make it 3-0 before Narveson finally got out of the inning by striking out Rick Ankiel.
The offense, while constricted to just one inning, was enough to hold up thanks to strong pitching both from Gorzelanny and the bullpen.
Though the Nationals would see the lead cut to one on a two-run home run by Rickie Weeks in the fifth, and then blow the one-run lead with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning, Werth’s heroics would turn another possible negative, another game they let slip away, into a positive — and most importantly, into a lesson of how to gut out a win.
“I hope not, I hope there’s a lot better ones to remember than this one,” Werth said when asked if this is one of his new favorite memories in his young Nationals career. “This is more of an ugly win. But [it’s a] long season, we just need to keep doing the little things and winning ball games and picking up games we should win.”