- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 17, 2014

Scott Hairston’s towering fly ball fell into Michael Martinez’s mitt Sunday night and Jayson Werth, back on the field for the first time in a week, suddenly found himself howling for home.

When Werth touched the plate, cementing Washington’s second walk-off win in as many nights against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the earlier errors were forgotten. The previous 10 innings, a fan’s delight and a manager’s nightmare, fell into the background. And Rafael Soriano, who blew his fifth save and left the field to a chorus of boos, was absolved of his disastrous outing.

Werth hit a leadoff double in the 11th inning and scored on Hairston’s sacrifice fly to give the Nationals a 6-5 victory over the Pirates. The game began as a pitcher’s duel, morphed into a comedy of errors and featured two blown saves. But it ended with Washington’s sixth straight win and a second consecutive sweep.

“Last-minute, last-inning comeback and winning the game on a walk-off hit? Those are all good things,” manager Matt Williams said. “Not a whole lot of fun in the dugout, but we’ll take it. We’re not giving that one back.”

With the win, the Nationals moved 6 games ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. They also welcomed back Werth, who had missed seven games with a right shoulder injury.

Werth warmed up before the game but was told by Williams that he would not be needed. When the game was tied up, he returned to the batting cage and took a few more swings. He told Williams that he was good to go, and in the ninth inning, Williams decided to use him.

Werth drew a one-out walk, advanced to third base on a single by Denard Span and scored on another single by Asdrubal Cabrera, knotting the game at 5. He then played right field and returned to the plate in the 11th, when he doubled over Gregory Polanco’s head in left field to spark the final push.

“There’s a lot at stake here this season,” Werth said, “and I want to be a part of it.”

Before all of that, the game went from tame to wacky in a hurry. After Doug Fister spun four hitless innings, two Pirates reached base on errors by Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon in the sixth. A third was safe at first when Rendon’s throw hit him in the back.

In one of his most impressive innings of the season, Fister induced a pair of grounders that led to force plays at the plate. With a fly ball to right field, he wiggled out of the inning.

“That inning could’ve blown up, and he didn’t allow that,” Williams said. “That’s a key moment in the game.”

In the seventh, it was Pittsburgh’s turn to make a few mistakes. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Cabrera hit a slow bouncer to first base, where Ike Davis collected the ball and tried to throw out Taylor at home. But his throw bounced off catcher Russell Martin’s mitt and rolled down the third-base line. Taylor touched home and Kevin Frandsen, realizing that the Pirates could not get to the ball in time, rounded third, slid headfirst into home and pulled the Nationals ahead.

In the following at-bat, another grounder turned into a high throw at the plate, allowing Span to slide under Martin’s feet for another run. After a spotless eighth inning by Tyler Clippard, Soriano jogged to the mound in the ninth in search of his 30th save.

But he, like so many players Sunday night, made an uncharacteristic error, hitting Starling Marte in the back to lead off the inning. A single, a walk, a wild pitch, a fielder’s choice and a bases-clearing double followed, forcing Williams to remove his closer from the game. Soriano left the field to boos, then Matt Thornton pitched his way out of the inning.

“I think the fans here not be the same fans in New York, because I play two years in New York and it be more loud that that,” Soriano said. “I no do my job. What I have to say? Nothing.”

On this night, however, Soriano was absolved. Ross Detwiler threw two steady innings, Washington’s confidence never wavered and Werth returned in style. A wacky evening ended with a mob near the first-base dugout, and Gatorade dripping from Hairston’s jersey after a celebratory bath.

“I think today was a tribute to just the team mentality in general,” Fister said. “That’s a lesson learned for us, knowing that if something goes wrong, there’s 24 guys right behind you to pick you up. Whether it’s offense, whether it’s defense, guys are playing well together.”

• Tom Schad can be reached at tschad@washingtontimes.com.

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