Werth wins classic duel, keeps Nats alive
October, 11, 2012
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
Hey, why not? Let’s play another fifth game. There’s no such thing as too much baseball.
Jayson Werth saw 13 pitches from Lance Lynn leading off the bottom of the ninth. After taking the first two fastballs for strikes, he fouled off seven pitches and worked the count full. On the 13th pitch, Lynn fired a 96 mph fastball down the middle and Werth crushed it into the bullpen in left-center for the game-winning home run. It was a 2-1 victory for the Washington Nationals and the first home playoff win for a team in our nation’s capital since Earl Whitehill pitched a shutout for the Senators in Game 3 of the 1933 World Series at Griffith Stadium.
That Washington team featured guys named Buddy, Goose, Heinie, Ossie, Lefty and General. This one features guys named Jayson, Jordan, Bryce and Ian. It’s a different generation and this club wants to leave its mark. It believes it’s the best team in baseball, but in the previous two games had looked more like the 2009 Nationals than the 2012 version.
The Nationals would get only three hits in this game, but two were home runs -- Adam LaRoche hit one in the second inning off Kyle Lohse. With Jim Joyce’s rather liberal strike zone behind the plate, pitchers on both teams dominated. The Cardinals had only three hits of their own and Nationals relievers struck out eight batters in a row at one point. When Matt Holliday was called out on a pitch several inches outside the strike zone in the eighth, he simply turned around and laughed as he headed back to the dugout.
It came down to Werth versus Lynn -- pitching out of the bullpen after winning 18 games as a starter. As a starter he works 91-94, with two fastballs, a curveball and an occasional changeup or slider. Out of the bullpen, where he pitched in last year’s World Series run, he mainly works fastball/curveball.
He threw 10 fastballs in the showdown, three curves. He missed outside the zone with two curves; Werth fouled one off. Maybe he could have pulled the string with a 3-2 changeup, but you also don’t want to walk the leadoff man. Lynn challenged him. Werth delivered.
"I felt pretty good going into the at-bat," Werth said. Referring to his former teammate with the Phillies, he added, "Watching my boy Raul Ibanez do it last night, he gave me something tonight."
Werth began the season batting in the middle of the Nationals’ lineup but then broke his left wrist in early May. Returning in August, he eventually settled into the leadoff position, filling a void the team needed. Werth’s .387 OBP led the team and while he hit only five home runs -- the wrist injury may have affected his power -- he hit .300, got on base and cut down on his strikeouts. After whiffing 160 times in 2011, he cut his strikeout rate from 24.7 percent to 16.6 percent. You saw the ability to hang in during at-bats against Lynn.
The Nationals got a terrific effort from Ross Detwiler, who threw 104 pitches and allowed just an unearned run over six innings, after throwing 100 pitches in a game just once all season. Game 2 starter Jordan Zimmermann struck out the side in the seventh, Tyler Clippard struck out the side in the eighth and Drew Storen got two more in the ninth, with Ian Desmond making a nice running catch of a blooper in the Bermuda Triangle area near the left-field line to retire the side.
You can question whether Mike Matheny should have gone to Lynn. Mitchell Boggs, in relief of Lohse, had thrown just 14 pitches in the eighth. Lynn had thrown 50 pitches on Tuesday and gave up two home runs. In a game where runs were nearly impossible to come by, perhaps Matheny should have soaked one more inning out of Boggs and then turned it over to closer Jason Motte in the 10th, leaving Lynn for later in the game if it stretched out that far.
We now get a Game 1 rematch of Adam Wainwright and Gio Gonzalez. Obviously, Gonzalez can’t walk seven batters again. He’ll have to get through all that right-handed power in the St. Louis lineup, but Gonzalez’s curveball makes him a tough reverse platoon lefty -- right-handers hit just .199 off him this season. All hands will be on deck. Zimmermann threw just 12 pitches, Clippard 16. Storen threw 26, so he’s probably available for just one inning. The Cardinals are similarly well-rested. Don't be surprised to see rookie Trevor Rosenthal, who was throwing 99 mph cheese on Wednesday, at some point.
More baseball? Let's do it.