SAN FRANCISCO — Jayson Werth walked down the tunnel from the visitors’ dugout and up the staircase to the Washington Nationals clubhouse. Still in full uniform, he peeled to the right to sign an autograph rather than heading into the open door. “Come on J-Dub!” a voice bellowed from inside. “We're waiting for you!” Werth finished with the fan and marched toward blinking lights, through fog from a smoke machine and into a pile of teammates. “Turn Down For What” blared. They screamed, “Whoo!” Werth screamed back.
Werth had led the Nationals to a 2-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants, the rare June victory worthy of a late-fall celebration. Amidst raucous fans and a distinctive chill from off the San Francisco Bay, the Nationals and Giants fought for nine tense innings, until Rafael Soriano survived a rollercoaster ninth and the Nationals sealed their ninth win in 11 games.
In a 2012 World Series rematch, Doug Fister outdueled Madison Bumgarner with seven scoreless innings that continued the Nationals’ remarkable run of starting pitching. Werth both drove home the eventual deciding run with an RBI single in the fifth inning and prevented a run by throwing out Pablo Sandoval at the plate to end the sixth. Two of the best teams in the National League stood eye to eye all night, and the Nationals prevailed.
“That,” utility man Kevin Frandsen said, “was awesome.”
Despite seven big, fat zeroes on the scoreboard, Fister worked hard for his fifth win. He yielded eight hits and constantly worked his way out of trouble, sometimes with the help of his defense. In the sixth, with the Nationals holding a 2-0 lead, Sandoval led off with a double. Fister recorded the next two outs.
With Brandon Crawford at the plate, Werth played his usual depth in right field, not wanting to cheat in up two runs. Crawford ripped a single toward him. Werth charged and measured his steps to produce a playable hop. He grabbed the ball out of his glove with fingers on all four seams to ensure a throw with no tail.
“Let it fly,” Werth said.
The laser throw skipped on one hop to catcher Wilson Ramos, who corralled the ball on the first-base side of home plate and shuffled to the other corner of the dish. He tagged Sandoval's chest as he lunged for the plate.
“That's huge,” Fister said. “He comes up clutch in big situations like that, whether it’s at the plate or on defense. It’s a great attribute to have on this team.”
An inning earlier, Werth had come through with his bat. Werth came to the plate with two outs in the fifth inning. Denard Span had scored the Nationals’ first run with a sacrifice fly to left, and Anthony Rendon, playing his first game since a thumb injury sidelined him Friday, extended the inning with a single. Werth lashed Bumgarner’s 1-2 slider into left field, and Danny Espinosa hustled home from second to make it 2-0, Nationals.
“Hitting third in a big league lineup, that's something as a kid you grow up dreaming about,” Werth said. “This is really my second year in that slot. I take pride in my hitting. It’s a big accomplishment to be a three-hole hitter. It’s also a big responsibility. I enjoy driving in runs and getting hits. I’ve always enjoyed getting big hits. I'm serious — it’s a huge responsibility to hit third. I’m honored to be a three-hole hitter. I really am.”
Fister’s gutty outing continued the Nationals rotation’s incredible streak. Over the last eight games, the Nationals’ rotation owns a collective 1.09 ERA. But that may even be the most eye-popping figure they’ve produced.
Fister struck out three and, leading off the seventh inning, issued the starting rotation’s first walk in seven games. Over seven games, a span of 49 innings, their starting pitchers had struck out 50 without a walk. Such a streak had not occurred in 100 years. Now it’s 50 walks against one strikeout in 50 innings. Think they’ll let Fister board the team plane?
“I think we're all kind of in a stretch where we've been commanding the ball pretty well,” Stephen Strasburg said. “It's just kind of adding up together.”
Fister is the rotation’s newest addition, a trade acquisition who missed the season’s first month with a strained lat. But in his seven starts, Fister has set a tone for the starting five. “Follow the leader,” defensive coordinator Mark Weidemaier says of Fister. With his high-80s sinker and slow curve, Fister does not pitch like any other Nationals starter. But they have taken their cues from his relentless, all-business approach.
“The way he goes about his business, the intensity he takes out there, that rubs off on guys,” Strasburg said.
While Fister again did the heavy lifting, set-up man Tyler Clippard delivered the night’s most dramatic out. With two on and one out in eighth, former National Michael Morse lumbered to the plate. As the count ran full, the crowd rose and roared. One swing could flip the score.
Clippard threw Morse a 3-2 change-up, and Morse hooked deep down the left field line. Clippard then challenged Morse with a high, 3-2 fastball. If Morse took it, the bases would be loaded. If he hit it, it may rattle around the giant Coke bottle beyond the left field concourse. He missed for strike three.
“I feel like I set him up good for that pitch,” Clippard said. “Once he knows that I have the ability to throw [a change-up] 3-2, he’s kind of caught in between. It might have been just a tick above the strike zone. But it was close enough where he had to swing, and I got it by him.”
In the ninth, Soriano survived Crawford’s leadoff triple and an RBI groundout. The Nationals had continued their best performance since the season in which they won a division title. Tuesday afternoon, a longtime friend of Werth’s, whose baseball opinion he respects, had sent him a text message.
“He said we looked like the 2012 Nats,” Werth said. “That's good. I see it, too. We’re playing good. We’re kind of clicking on all cylinders. We got it going. The type of baseball you want to play in the second half, we’re playing it in June.”