It wasn’t the comprehensive victory Nationals fans were hoping for, the one that solved all the team’s current issues in one fell swoop. It was much, much better than that.
Held to just three hits on the day, the Washington Nationals won Game 4 of the National League Division Series anyway, getting a pair of home runs and tremendous pitching to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 2-1 and force a deciding Game 5. The first of the homers, a solo shot by Adam LaRoche in the second inning, woke up a Nationals crowd that had been waiting to burst. The second, a walkoff winner by Jayson Werth in the ninth inning, will be talked about for a long time.
Facing Cardinals hurler Lance Lynn leading off the ninth, Werth made the 18-game winner throw 13 pitches in a marvelous at-bat that combined a good batting eye with some wonderful bat control and ended with a missile into the St. Louis bullpen. Here is a pitch-by-pitch breakdown of Werth’s masterpiece (all pitch data supplied by MLB GameDay):
1. Fastball, 95 mph: Lynn starts the at-bat with a fastball at the knees that Werth looks at for strike one.
2. Fastball, 94: Almost the same pitch in a similar spot, maybe slightly higher. Another taken strike and Werth is now down 0-2.
3. Curveball, 81: Lynn tries to make Werth fish for an offpseed pitch, skipping a curve in the left-handed batters box. Werth doesn’t bite and it’s 1-2.
4. Fastball, 96: Still staying away, Lynn just misses off the plate and slightly up. Werth has evened the count at 2-2.
5. Fastball, 97: A good heater in on Werth’s hands that he fists away foul. Hard pitch to make contact with.
6. Fastball, 97: This one was kind of grooved, center cut, maybe a little in, but the speed made it tricky for Werth. Perhaps looking for the offspeed pitch, Werth takes a defensive hack and fouls another one off.
7. Fastball, 97: Painting the outside corner, no doubt would have been a called third strike by home plate umpire Jim Joyce given the wide and erratic strike zone he employed during the game. Not a pitch Werth could drive, flicked foul in a nice piece of hitting.
8. Fastball, 96: Another good pitcher’s pitch by Lynn, just off the outside corner, and again Werth spoils it. This one almost stayed in play for Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig, but landed in the Washington dugout.
9. Curveball, 82: Started down and broke further down, this was never going to be a strike but Werth still reached out and got a piece of it. It almost looked as if he was doing it just because he could. This is the point when Werth’s teammates had a hunch something good was about to happen. Closer Drew Storen recounted to MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo the time when Werth hit a walk-off against Storen and the Nats when Werth was with the Phillies.
“That’s exactly what I did, and he spoiled it,” DiComo quotes Storen as saying to teammate Tyler Clippard as they watched from the Nationals dugout. “He’s going to come back with a fastball and [Werth] is going to get him.”
But not yet …
10. Fastball, 96: Exact same pitch as in number 5, boring in on the hands and Werth again sends it foul.
11. Curveball, 79: The game was almost up here. Lynn threw a splendid curveball that just missed the outside corner. Werth took it, but given Joyce’s strike zone, it would not have been surprising at all to see Werth rung up. If the pitch had been a fastball, we might still be playing. Instead, the count goes full.
12. Fastball, 97: The same spot as pitch number 7, just off the outside corner. Another foul.
13. Fastball, 96: Right down the middle. Werth spoiled the pitcher’s pitches while waiting for something he could drive, and this was it. The result: A line-drive homer that banged off the back wall of the St. Louis bullpen and sent 44,392 red-clad fans home happy.