NEW YORK — At the heart of the Washington Nationals’ 2-0 loss to the New York Mets on Sunday was one at-bat that left Jayson Werth sitting in front of his locker staring into the abyss.
With runners on first and second and no outs, and left-hander Scott Rice having thrown six straight balls — and seven balls in his last eight pitches — Werth swung at a 3-0 pitch and ground into a double play. It squashed the Nationals’ best scoring chance, though hardly their only one, and left him dejected.
Here is how the play was viewed by those on the field and in the dugouts, starting with Werth himself.
“I just got caught up in the moment,” Werth said. “Just really, looking back, trying to do too much. Trying to win the game right there. I can sit here and talk about the situation but, I just tried to do too much. The situation got the best of me. Probably one of the dumber things I’ve done on the field in a while.
“Look no further than right here. That’s where the game was lost. We had a chance to win the game but I feel like I pretty much blew it. Jordan (Zimmermann) pitched a good game, kept it close. (Zach) Duke came in and blanked ‘em. We got the guy on the ropes. We got the guy we wanted to get on the ropes, had the heart of the order coming up and really just, with the lefties behind me, in that situation you’ve got to let the game come to you, and I tried to go get the game. That was it.”
Werth is often hailed as a very smart baseball player, a cerebral player who sees a lot of things on the field and has good instincts.
As Adam LaRoche put it: “Jayson’s got his own way of doing some things and a lot of it really makes sense. A lot of times when he does something I’ll go up and say ‘What were you thinking there?’ And he’ll tell me why and it makes a lot of sense. He’s really baseball smart.”
Perhaps that’s why it was so surprising to see him do what he did with that pitch.
“Jayson Werth’s a great player. He’s a big time player,” said Mets manager Terry Collins. “To be honest, I was a little surprised he swung in that particular situation. But I’ve seen those big hitters do that, and sometimes they hit it over the fence. Sometimes they hit ground ball double plays.”
Manager Davey Johnson, who rarely declines to discuss or explain game details, was somewhat terse when asked about it. “I’m not going to go into that, OK?” And Werth said he had not yet discussed the decision with Johnson.
But there was a thought process behind what Werth did.
“I have to go back and look and see exactly, but I was looking to pull something,” he explained. “I even moved up on the plate and figured, given the situation where he’d just thrown seven straight balls, I felt like he was going to groove one. I felt like I could do damage.
“I think it was a two-seamer, but given where I was in the box, I couldn’t even tell you if it was a strike.”
With Ryan Zimmerman out of the Nationals’ lineup with a strained hamstring, the left-right balance that they built their team to have has been altered some. Werth knew he was the only right-handed batter in a four-batter span. He knew Rice had been brought in because of that reason and, as the lone righty, he felt he had to make the Mets pay for allowing him to face a left-hander.
“I just felt like I could,” Werth said. “I was convicted. I felt like I was doing the right thing. Looking back obviously that was not the right decision, but I play to win. Stay aggressive and sometimes the game will get you.”
“Jayson Werth gets paid a lot of money to drive in runs, so he’s going to be hacking in those types of situations,” Rice said.
But Werth also knew the heart of the Nationals’ order was behind him — that Bryce Harper and Adam LaRoche, though left-handed batters, could do damage, too. And Ian Desmond behind them.
“With Harp up behind me, in a two-run game, I was being aggressive and I was convicted,” Werth said. “I felt like I could make a difference right there. I got caught up in it. That’s for sure.”
“Was I expecting it? No,” said Mets third baseman David Wright. “But Davey’s got confidence in his hitters. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. That might have had been the best pitch he’d get to hit but you never know. I was a little surprised. A lot of those times, especially with a couple of lefties up, and I know one of them is swinging the bat pretty well right now, but sometimes that might be the best pitch you get to hit. The pitcher’s just trying to lay it in there especially coming off of three straight balls. We got lucky on that one.”
Some of Werth’s teammates figured that if he had the decision to make over again, he would take the pitch. At least force Rice to throw him one before he tried to do damage. Werth himself, though, couldn’t say for sure.
“It didn’t go very well, that’s for sure,” he said of the decision. “To have it all over again, do I do the same thing? I don’t know. You live and learn.”
“I think he was amped up right there,” LaRoche said. “He was trying to give us three quick runs. We’d had nothing going pretty much all night. He was trying to spark something and kind of force it a little bit. Obviously a big part of the game, but we should’ve been on the board before that anyway.”
After Werth finished speaking to reporters, he turned his chair back to face his locker. He stared into the abyss some more before he ultimately rose from his seat. He, like the rest of his teammates, cautioned that it was too early for anyone to read too much into the way the Nationals had been playing. But he acknowledged, at least slightly, that he was pressing at that moment to make something happen.
“I can only speak for myself at this point,” Werth said. “I know in that situation, for sure. But we’re OK. It’s early. We’re a good ballclub. We’re going home. We’ll bounce back. But we definitely let this one get away from us today. And I’m pretty sure I feel like it was my fault.
“Just a definite misstep. Feel like I let the guys down, that’s probably the worst part.”