Four times Jayson Werth had come to the plate Friday night, and four times the Nationals right fielder was sent back to the dugout empty handed.
Through 9 1/2 innings of baseball — through the building of a three-run lead and the subsequent disappearance of that same lead via Sean Burnett’s first blown save of the season that allowed the tying run to cross the plate with two outs in the ninth — Werth, like much of the Nationals offense had struggled to reach base for the second straight game.
But Werth, who prides himself on being aggressive on the basepaths, saw five straight four-seam fastballs from Milwaukee Brewers reliever Zack Braddock with one out in the bottom of the 10th inning before he sent the sixth to short and hustled his way down the first base line. When Yuniesky Betancourt’s throw sailed wide left of first baseman Prince Fielder, Werth was already rounding first base on his way to second on a two-base throwing error and waited two pitches before stealing third with Adam LaRoche batting.
“Just the player he is,” said left fielder Michael Morse. “I think our team, we knew what he was thinking out there. Especially on second base, we knew that he was timing the pitcher and he was going to go and then he did. It worked out just like we thought it would.”
And when LaRoche sent a 3-2 slider toward Fielder at first base, Werth was already sliding into home ahead of a wide throw with the Nationals sixth victory of the season and their first walkoff, 4-3 over the Brewers on a fielder’s choice RBI.
The view was a little different from the batters box, though.
“The last thing I expected was for him to take off and steal third,” LaRoche said. “It’s an awesome play. It’s Jayson just making something happen… I did the easier part. He went out there and busted his butt on three separate plays and got us the win.”
An inning earlier, the Nationals were one out away from sealing a one-run victory exactly the way they’d like so many more to go when Rickie Weeks sent a towering double to center field and Carlos Gomez brought him home with a single off Sean Burnett to tie the game.
They were one out away from being able to leave Nationals Park on a cold, windy Friday night knowing they’d taken the first game of the series against the Milwaukee Brewers with solid starting pitching from Tom Gorzelanny, an offense that took advantage of a starter lacking control early and three more scoreless innings from Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Burnett.
Perhaps, in the big picture, they were three outs away from defining their late-inning relievers once and for all as Nationals manager Jim Riggleman’s seventh, eighth and ninth inning guys, respectively with a textbook victory. But, as has often happened to the Nationals this year, it was easily erased.
But unlike so many games early this season, when the Nationals could have folded, could have given in to the one moment that cost them the game, they didn’t allow the Brewers to beat them – and they didn’t allow the bullpen that has pitched so impeccably well during the season’s first two weeks to be let down for reaching a breaking point.
“I hope there’s a lot better ones to remember than this one,” Werth said. “This is more of an ugly win, I’d call it. We just need to keep picking up games that we should win. We’ve given away a lot of games this year already – games that we’ve had a chance to win and didn’t – so hopefully we’ll start getting those close games and get over .500 and who knows what could happen.”
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Amanda Comak covers the Washington Nationals and comes to The Washington Times from the Cape Cod Times and after stints with MLB.com and the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Recorder. A Massachusetts native and 2008 graduate of Boston University, Amanda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow her on Twitter @acomak.
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