“We get to play tomorrow,” Werth said. “That’s the best part.”
The Nationals, if their nerves can take it, if their hearts have not beaten through their chests, will gather Friday evening at Nationals Park for the decisive Game 5. The Cardinals have outscored Washington by 14 runs in four games, but that will be wholly irrelevant at 8:37 p.m. The Nationals will give their top pitcher, Gio Gonzalez, the ball against Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright in a rematch of their encounter in Game 1 of this series.
The Nationals totaled two hits in the first eight innings Thursday, as the bright afternoon sun gave way to a crisp, clear evening. They never pushed a runner past first base, relying on Adam LaRoche’s solo homer in the second off Cardinals pitcher Kyle Lohse. The zeroes added up until Werth led off the ninth against Cardinals reliever Lance Lynn for what resulted in a classic duel between batter and pitcher.
Werth took the first two pitches, two fastballs that made the count 0-2. He took ball one, a curve that barely missed low and away. After he took another fastball for ball two, Werth figured Lynn would not try another curveball.
“It seems like the whole world just kind of goes away,” Werth said afterward. “The situation just kind of melts away. You just kind of focus on the ball.”
With the count 2-2, Werth fouled off four straight fastballs. In the dugout, Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman turned to bench coach Randy Knorr and said, “This is getting interesting.” Next to them, shortstop Ian Desmond thought back to a game-tying homer Werth hit off Miami Marlins pitcher Heath Bell late in the summer after fouling off a gaggle of pitches.
“He has a knack for doing it,” hitting coach Rick Eckstein said. “When he’s right, he’ll foul some pitches off and know that he’s going to foul it off. There’s other times when he’s put balls in play and he’ll say, ‘Man, I was just tying to foul it off to get to another pitch.’ ”
On the ninth pitch, Lynn tried to fool him with a curve, and Werth looped it just over the home dugout. After another fouled fastball, Werth took a curve out of the strike zone to run the count full. Another fastball, 97 mph, came hurtling in. Werth flicked it away.