When Wilson Ramos strode to the plate Tuesday, it was just past 10 p.m. With two on, the Nationals trailing by two, two outs in the ninth and thunder rumbling in the distance, he told himself to wait on the changeup.
It was patience that had given him this opportunity in the first place. Patience that allowed Washington to send six batters to the plate ahead of him and chip away at Seattle's four-run lead that looked secure moments earlier. And there was patience, and perhaps a bit of luck, in knocking Brandon League out after Michael Morse's comebacker hit off his right leg.
Ramos pulled hitting coach Rick Eckstein aside in the dugout and got the lowdown on new Mariners pitcher David Pauley. The skinny was this: His second-best pitch is a changeup. If he needed to get a right-handed hitter out, he'd go to his changeup. All Ramos had to do was wait for it. Patience, Ramos knew, would get him what he wanted.
When it came, Ramos hit it so far — into the picnic seats in center field at Nationals Park — that by the time it landed, he'd barely made it out of the batter's box to begin his slow, deliberate trot. There was no reason to speed now.
The Nationals paraded their way into the clubhouse 6-5 winners on the first career walk-off homer for the catcher. It was their ninth win in the past 10 games.
"It went about 20 feet off his bat and I hopped over the fence," said right fielder Jayson Werth, who led off the inning by reaching on an error by first baseman Justin Smoak.
"I saw that ball go up in the air, and I knew the second that was hit," said second baseman Danny Espinosa, whose single one batter ahead of Ramos brought home the Nationals' third run and set the stage for Ramos.
"I think that was my best hit in my career," said Ramos, whose blast sealed the biggest ninth-inning comeback in Nationals history.
Starter Livan Hernandez was tagged for five runs (four earned) on 10 hits and one walk in four innings, but that rough stretch was followed by five innings of scoreless relief by rookie Ryan Mattheus, Collin Balester and Todd Coffey (3-0). From inside the clubhouse, the relievers who had given the Nationals their only glimmer of hope through the first 8½ innings watched with Hernandez and John Lannan on the delayed television broadcast. They heard what was left of the 21,502 in attendance go wild before they saw Ramos' swing.
"We were jumping up like we were 5 years old, won a T-ball game and were about to go get a sno-cone," Balester said. "People were running around doing cartwheels in here."
The relievers appeared to be mopping up at the time, but they held the line. They allowed the eight innings of one-run, three-hit work by Seattle pitcher Doug Fister to become simply a footnote. They gave the Nationals a chance.
Even a double-play grounder by Ryan Zimmerman in the ninth became meaningless thanks to three straight two-out singles by Jerry Hairston Jr., Morse and Espinosa. Ramos provided the finishing touch.
"Baseball's crazy," Hernandez said. "You know, baseball is 27 outs. Not too many believe that. But it's 27 outs. And today that's what happened."
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.