Outfielder Jayson Werth was among Washington’s most carefree players after Game 3 of the National League Division Series, a deflating 8-0 defeat that left his team one loss away from winter vacation.
He wasn’t worried about the 2-games-to-1 hole. He didn’t care that the St. Louis Cardinals are battle-tested and known to thrive in such situations. He still believed in the Nats’ character and definitely liked their chances.
“All we’ve got to do,” he said Wednesday night, “is come through tomorrow and we’re in good shape.”
The Nats did as he suggested and Werth capped the effort with an exclamation point Thursday, driving his 13th pitch from reliever Lance Lynn into the visitors’ bullpen for a walk-off homer and 2-1 victory.
A sign held aloft in the stands expressed every Nats’ fan thought at the moment: “Werth It.”
“I need to go back and watch the whole at-bat and see what went on,” Werth said. “You’re just up there in the moment. … You’re focused on the ball and it seems like the whole world kind of goes away and the situation just melts away.
“I don’t even remember it really. It’s almost like I blacked out for sure. I had a Will Ferrell moment. I remember bits and pieces.”
As he strode to the batter’s box to lead off the ninth inning, Werth had little if any room to operate because his baggage was taking up space.
There was a suitcase filled with fruitless at-bats throughout the NL Division Series (3-for-15 before the homer). There was an overnighter stuffed with the runners he’d left on base. And there was the gigantic steamer trunk, overflowing with the $126 million Werth signed for before the 2011 season.
The deal drew scorn for the Nats and derision for Werth, who stunk something awful last year. But one well-timed, crucial swing of his bat sent the ball and his luggage over the fence.
Just like that, Werth justified the expenditure and proved the point. The team that never won before this season was a step closer to the League Championship Series, thanks to their most seasoned postseason player.
“That’s the way that game should have ended,” manager Davey Johnson said. “Jayson Werth hitting a home run. He has not hit that many this year.”
That’s the thing about Werth. Despite all the zeroes on his paycheck, it’s really not about numbers with him. He does what it takes to win without the eye-popping statistics. He leads off, scores runs and steals homers in the outfield. He works counts, gets on base and serves as Bryce Harper’s surrogate big brother.
“The stuff that he does day-to-day in here — whether he’s hurt, healthy, he grinds out every single day,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “That’s kind of what a lot of us have learned from him. We have a young team and he’s been through a lot. Maybe not so much him telling people, but people watching him.”
He shares his experiences from playing on the 2009 World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies and tells the Nats that they can do the same this year. He keeps them relaxed if they’re too tight and gives them a kick if they’re too loose. That’s why general manager Mike Rizzo was willing to overpay and endure the wrath of fellow baseball executives.
Rizzo knew the intangibles that Werth would bring to losing culture. He also knew there would be some concrete factors as well — like a game-winning homer to stave off elimination or a booster shot of confidence the night before.
“I just knew the type of mentality our club has, and the guys, they bring it every day,” Werth said after he forced a decisive Game 5. “I knew that [loss Wednesday] wasn’t going to get them down.”