By Mike Frandsen
The Washington Nationals gave D.C.’s long-suffering fans plenty to cheer about Thursday with a 2-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of the National League Division Series. D.C.’s first home playoff baseball victory since 1933 was an October classic.
When Jayson Werth launched a Lance Lynn fastball into the left field bullpen at Nationals Park in the bottom of the ninth inning, 44,392 fans went absolutely crazy. Nats players jumped out of the dugout to celebrate, and, at least for the moment, a black cloud was lifted from D.C. sports scene.
A city that hasn’t had much to cheer about in recent years had plenty to yell about at the end of Game 3. And much of the cheering crowd was on its feet for the last few innings.
After the game, Nats players said the intensity of the crowd helped inspire them.
Werth told F. P. Santangelo of the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, “It was awesome. This place is great. When I first came here I went to a Caps game. The place was packed and the people brought it and I thought man, this is where I want to be. It took almost two years to get it that way but here we are and you’ve got to love these fans.”
Despite its reputation as being a Redskins town but not a sports town, Washington has become on of the loudest places to play in the NHL, according to opposing players. Thursday in D.C.’s first home baseball playoff game win in 79 years, Washington fans hit a home run. D.C. baseball fans aren’t all novices – some of them rooted for the Baltimore Orioles for decades.
A city that went without major league baseball for 33 years let it all hang out in Game 4, and there’s no reason to think that the the fans won’t be even more passionate in Friday’s deciding Game 5.
Unlike the 8-0 blowout loss in Game 3, Game 4 left the fans hanging on every pitch. It was the sixth game in playoff history in which both teams had three or fewer hits.
The game had clutch pitching, fielding, and hitting performances by the Nats.
Werth’s walk-off shot was so theatrical, most people will forget Adam LaRoche’s solo homer to centerfield in the second inning that gave the Nats a 1-0 lead.
Starter Ross Detwiler pitched six innings, allowing three hits and no earned runs. Detwiler was in the playoff rotation because of the Stephen Strasburg shutdown.
In the seventh inning, manager Davey Johnson brought in Jordan Zimmermann to relieve for the first time in his major league career. Knowing he only had one inning to pitch, Zimmermann struck out the side in the seventh inning with fastballs in the high 90s. Tyler Clippard then struck out the side in the eighth, and left pumping his fists. Drew Storen struck out the next two batters for eight strikeouts in a row. It was only the third time in playoff history that eight or more consecutive batters were struck out.
Nats shortstop Ian Desmond has been the only Washington player to hit with regularity this series, coming into Game 3 hitting .583. In Game 3 Desmond was 0 for 3, but he made up for it with a sliding catch of a fly ball to left field that might have saved a run with two outs in the ninth.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Nats had their $126 million dollar man up. On deck was Washington’s 19-year old rookie phenom, to be followed by the only player to play for the Nats in each of their eight seasons. But Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman weren’t needed.
Three weeks before Halloween, the Werewolf finally showed up. Whether Jayson was worth the money was irrelevant in this moment. In Game 4, Werth was the hero. Battling off foul balls, Werth’s at bat totaled 13 pitches before his walk-off home run.
There is no debating that D.C. fans deserved this dramatic victory. What can the Nats do for an encore?
All of a sudden the Nats are in the driver’s seat, with 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez set to pitch Game 5 against Adam Wainwright (14-13) Friday at 8:37 p.m. at Nationals Park. It will be a rematch of the pitchers who started Game 1, won 3-2 by the Nats.
Gonzalez is a lefty, and both Nats wins in this series have come from left-handed starters. Gonzalez was shaky in Game 1, walking seven and allowing two runs in five innings, though he only gave up one hit and gave the Nats a chance.
It has been two decades since the Redskins last won a Super Bowl, and more than three decades since the Bullets won the NBA title. The Caps give D.C. fans thrills every postseason, but rarely do they go deep in the playoffs. The Caps are a perennial playoff team, the Redskins are getting better, and the Wizards can’t get any worse. D.C. sports is on its way.
But as George Allen used to say, “The Future is Now.” A win by the Nats Friday would be a major turning point in the city’s sports landscape. Why can’t the Nats win Game 5, and eventually the World Series? They did win 98 games, more than any other team in baseball.
It won’t be easy – the world champion Cardinals are far more experienced than the Nats, who have only just crashed the party. But if the young Nats follow in the footsteps of Werth and get some clutch hits, Game 5 could be just the beginning of one of the best seasons for a Washington sports team in a long time.
Mike Frandsen is a freelance writer covering all things Redskins. His work can be found on Examiner.com.