Davey Johnson is not a small-ball manager. A man cut more from the “pitching, defense, three-run homer” school of thought, Johnson has said in his first week as the Washington Nationals’ manager that he’s had to write a new playbook in trying to manufacture offense.
Watching a 10th inning unfold on a steamy Fourth of July afternoon that included a walk, a sacrifice bunt by pinch-hitter Livan Hernandez, an instinctive steal of third base by Jayson Werth and a walk-off wild pitch, Johnson must have felt like he was having an out-of-body experience. But with a motto that it takes 25 players to win a pennant, and using 20 of them Monday, Johnson had no problem issuing all the credit due to his team for scoring three runs in the final five innings of a 5-4 victory over the Chicago Cubs with one base hit that left the infield.
“You know,” Johnson said, “we’ve got guys that can go out of the ballpark. But we’re scoring on groundballs in the infield and walks. It’s not really a good comfort zone for me yet.
“The thing I liked about that game the most: We gave them two runs, and we battled back.”
There was no letdown in the Nationals’ fourth last at-bat win in their past eight home games. Werth, the struggling right fielder, strode to the plate in the 10th with his .224 average, and took a leadoff walk. Wilson Ramos, the last healthy position player on the bench, had jumped on deck to pinch hit when Johnson remembered he had someone else who could do that job.
“I was down to my last man, and I didn’t want to use Ramos,” Johnson said. “I had him out there, and I thought: I’m going to bunt him. And then I remembered I have a pretty good bunter in the starting rotation: Hernandez.”
Hernandez, who said he’s been called on to lay one down in extra innings “a couple” of times in his career, had been down in the batting cage a few moments before working on his bunting in preparation. When summoned, he laid one down in textbook fashion. He also was the last batter Cubs reliever Marcos Mateo would face, pulled with an apparent elbow injury that forced cold Carlos Marmol into the game.
Werth took the opportunity to make a gutsy play. As Marmol set for his first pitch, Werth took off. At the plate, catcher Ivan Rodriguez noticed and took a fastball down. Werth slid in easily, 90 feet away with the winning run.
Four pitches later, after a 2-2 slider to Rodriguez eluded catcher Geovany Soto, the Nationals were celebrating.
“In that situation, with one out, I’d rather be on third than on second,” Werth said. “I just felt like, it’s time to make something happen. It felt right.”
“There was no sign for that,” Johnson said. “It was just his read and boom, he’s over there. That’s a winning attitude. And I feel a lot of guys have that same attitude.”
The win for the Nationals, who have a 58-26 run differential in the ninth inning or later and a 27-7 advantage in extra innings, moved Washington back to .500 at 43-43. It also possibly gave their highest-paid player, one who’s been booed this homestand, a morale boost after hitting .162 since June 1 with just seven extra-base hits and 30 strikeouts.
“Cheer me, boo me, whatever,” Werth said. “I’m still going to go out there and play my games. Winning ballgames is the most important thing. … I’d like to get going offensively, but as long as we’re winning and I’m helping the team win, doing the little things, I’m satisfied with it.”
It also erased the memory of what Werth called a “classic miscommunication” between him and center fielder Roger Bernadina that forced the Nationals into comeback mode once again. In the fourth inning with the Nats ahead 2-1, Alfonso Soriano hit a routine fly. But as Werth and Bernadina inched closer neither made a move to catch the ball. It fell in, allowing two runs to score and giving the Cubs a 3-2 lead.
The gaffe, like much of the Nationals’ offensive struggle for the first nine innings, ultimately became moot as Washington picked up its 16th one-run victory