- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 14, 2012

As Jayson Werth stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 13th on Friday the 13th, the clock had just inched past 11 p.m. He looked out at bases filled with his teammates. Danny Espinosa on third via a broken-bat single. Ryan Zimmerman on second due to a five-pitch walk. Adam LaRoche on first because of a second five-pitch walk.

Werth had stood here before. Twice he’d come up with a chance to win the game for the Nationals. After Xavier Nady’s pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning tied it up, Werth stood at the plate with two outs and nobody on in the ninth and singled, and in the 11th, he ended the inning with a pop-up.

But in the 13th, the Cincinnati Reds crowded the infield, leaving the lines unguarded and trying to protect up the middle. It didn’t matter. As what was left of the 26,959 in attendance came to their feet, Werth connected with a two-strike curveball from Reds closer Sean Marshall and pushed it up the middle. Espinosa galloped home with the winning run and Werth gave his bat a celebratory fling off to the side as the Nationals prevailed 2-1 in a battle of attrition.

“That was,” he said, “‘Let’s go home.’ Didn’t want to go home without the win, though, that’s for sure.”

It was a win — the second straight via the walk-off variety — that took plenty longer than anticipated to secure.

It seemed like days earlier that Jordan Zimmermann turned in seven solid innings of one-run work, bringing the starting pitchers’ ERA over the last four games to 0.36. But the right-hander came out of the game in line for the type of tough loss he has become accustomed to, only this game still lasted six more innings.

“I knew these guys were going to get a run sooner or later,” Zimmermann said, stoic as usual about the criminal lack of run support he’s received since the beginning of last season. In 14 innings Zimmermann has been on the mound this year, the Nationals have scored one run.

And after Nady gave the Nationals what manager Davey Johnson called “the happiest moment of the game,” by pinch hitting for pinch hitter Chad Tracy in the eighth and smacking his fifth career pinch-hit home run, the game still lasted five more frams.

“I was tickled to death that we got [Zimmermann] off the hook,” Johnson said. “It would have been tragic for him to lose that ball game. I told him after the game, ‘You’re a good pitcher. You learn how to spit the hook when you pitched a good ball game and leave it behind.’”

But what followed, because of Reds manager Dusty Baker’s curious decision to remove a dominant Bronson Arroyo (three hits in 7 ⅓ innings), was zeroes. The Nationals bullpen put up six straight scoreless innings following Zimmermann’s exit, scattering five baserunners across the work of five relievers. And their offense continued to stall.

Werth has played in 78 games with Nationals Park as his home stadium. They haven’t all been pretty for him. Toward the end of the 2011 season, Werth was booed, often resoundingly, as his first season in Washington devolved.

“I think there’s more people that like him than don’t like him,” Zimmerman said. “It’s just the people that don’t like him are louder. … [But] it can’t be easy to come over to a brand-new place and have the amount of expectations that he had on himself.”

Werth spoke this spring about an enhanced comfort level. He spent the offseason mostly in Washington, as he moved his family to Virginia where he owns a home. Moments after his single broke through Friday night, Werth thanked the fans who’d stuck around for all 13 frames in his on-field interview, broadcast on television and the stadium’s scoreboard.

“Fans are fans,” Werth said, shrugging off their reaction from last season and again complimenting those who’d stuck around on a crisp April night. “They pay good money to watch us play, so they’re entitled to yell and scream and boo and hiss and cheer and throw things. Well, maybe not throw things.”

After an inauspicious start to his Nationals career, what Werth got Friday night was a sliver of hope. Maybe, as he celebrated his first walk-off hit with the Nationals, there would be more moments like this.

“Hopefully,” he said, “that will be the first of many.”

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