Jayson Werth is a proud man.
The Nationals’ veteran right fielder is also a passive aggressive tour de force on the field, slapping his hands together after a big hit, taking his sweet time at the plate if he thinks it might rattle an opposing pitcher or buy his own pitcher some rest, subtly disputing an umpires’ call without so much as turning his head. Body language does the talking for Werth.
To someone as competitive as that, an intentional walk to load the bases to get to him in the bottom of the eighth inning of Wednesday’s game against the Miami Marlins was going to elicit one predictable, combustible reaction.
“Knowing Jayson, if a pitcher looks at him wrong he’ll take that personally,” teammate Craig Stammen said, “Them blatantly walking to get to him, you typically don’t walk to get to your three hole hitter, especially a veteran guy that’s proven he can get big hits. But they chose to and it worked out in our favor this time.”
Indeed, Werth strode to the plate with a chip planted squarely on his shoulder and lined an 0-1 pitch from Miami reliever Carlos Marmol over the left field fence for the decisive grand slam in a 10-7 Washington victory at Nationals Park.
Werth knew the ball was gone the moment he swung and flipped his bat towards the dugout the Nats’ dugout with glee, a move that drew appreciative snickers from teammates who later watched the replay on the clubhouse television.
Werth understood the strategy. So did manager Matt Williams. Nursing a 7-6 lead with one out, the Marlins needed a double play. It made sense to walk second-year pro Anthony Rendon even if it gave Werth extra incentive to make them pay.
“That’s one of those, it’s just part of it,” said Werth, who hit his fourth career grand slam. “I think I was more pissed off about the [first] strike call than anything else. But when you’re put in that situation and the game’s on the line, you want to come through for your teammates. I was happy to do that.”
Reliever Rafael Soriano closed things out in the ninth, ending a wild game that saw the Marlins go ahead 5-0 against Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann [0-0, 8.10 ERA), fall behind 6-5, retake the lead with runs off Nats relievers Drew Storen in the seventh and Tyler Clippard in the eighth only to give it right back on Werth’s big swing. That drew applause sustained enough that Werth had to be reminded to step out of the dugout for a curtain call.
“I was somewhere else at that point,” Werth said. “But that was a nice gesture by the fans. I was happy to come through for them.”
But none of that would have been possible were it not for Stammen, who came on in relief of starter Jordan Zimermann. In the shortest outing of his career, Zimmermann lasted just 1 2/3 innings and gave up five runs on seven hits. During a 34-pitch first inning, the bullpen began to stir. Stammen and fellow long reliever Ross Detwiler knew Williams wouldn’t go much past 35 pitches in one stressful inning with one of his key starters.
“I was terrible out there,” Zimmermann said. “Fastball was all over the place, as you guys saw. I walked a few guys and that’s not like me. I just couldn’t get a really good feel and fell behind guys, and when you fall behind, you have to come back with a fastball.”
When Bryce Harper crushed a three-run homer into the third deck in right field in the fourth inning to cut the lead to 5-3, Stammen said the Nats knew they were going to win the game. It might have looked out of reach when he entered. Stammen didn’t see it that way at all.
“Well it’s my ERA and my stats on the scoreboard so I don’t want to look bad, either,” Stammen said. “I’m pitching like it’s the ninth inning and it’s a save situation no matter when I go out there. That’s the mindset I have. I think that’s the only way you can actually pitch and have success.”