Sep 19, 2015, 12:35 AM EDT
As Jayson Werth crawled on all fours to touch the plate, his forehead bloodied, his uniform askew, his hair flowing in every possible direction, the Nationals came pouring out of their dugout to celebrate.
Half of them approached Jose Lobaton, the man who lofted the sacrifice fly that made it all possible. The other half swarmed the still-dazed Werth, whose mad dash home secured the run that gave the Nationals a 5-4, 10-inning victory over the Marlins. Max Scherzer grabbed a bottle of chocolate syrup and restored the postgame celebration ritual he initiated earlier this summer.
In that moment, it didn’t seem to matter that all the Nationals did was avoid falling 9 games behind the Mets in an NL East race that truthfully was settled last week. Ballplayers and ballplayers, and a walk-off win is a walk-off win, no matter the circumstances. So they celebrated.
“Just a great team win, everybody around,” Scherzer said. “Everybody did their job today. Everybody had a hand in this and finding a way to get a W. Everybody made great plays all over the diamond, at the plate, on the mound. So it’s exciting when that goes on.”
Sure, it would’ve been even more dramatic had it drawn the Nationals within a couple of games of first place instead of merely holding the Mets’ magic number at 8. But the Nats have long since accepted they don’t control their own fate anymore, and the only thing they can do is go out there and try to win that game that night.
“I think we’ve handled it great,” said Jonathan Papelbon, whose blown save in the top of the ninth made the extra-inning rally necessary. “We’re going to continue to play games to win. And at the end of the day, we’ll see what happens.”
The Nationals nearly didn’t win this one. Their beleaguered bullpen gave up two key runs late, with Felipe Rivero giving up a lead in the eighth before Papelbon gave up the tying run in the ninth. But they also got clutch hits — and clutch baserunning — when they really needed it to overcome those pitching problems.
That included some aggressive baserunning by rookie Trea Turner, who took third base on an eighth-inning wild pitch that barely skipped away from Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. All told, the Nationals picked up seven extra bases on wild pitches or passed balls.
“We saw that can make a huge difference,” manager Matt Williams said. “That’s an opportunity. Ninety feet is always important.”
Turner’s advance to third put him in position to score on Ian Desmond’s sacrifice fly. Michael Taylor’s subsequent RBI single up the middle brought home Bryce Harper with the go-ahead run.
The eventual winning rally also included some aggressive baserunning, with Werth (who led off the inning with a double) taking third when Realmuto couldn’t handle a pitch up-and-in with Desmond squaring around to bunt. That set in motion the chain of events that left Lobaton at the plate with the bases loaded and one out, knowing a flyball to the outfield was needed.
The backup catcher delivered, sending the ball to medium-deep left field. Christian Yelich immediately fired home as Werth took off from third and 27,495 inside the ballpark held their breath.
“I saw him running,” Lobaton said, “and I’m like: ‘Please!'”
Werth knew the play was going to be close, so he did something he doesn’t normally do: Slide headfirst into the plate. His helmet flew off. His face hit the dirt, scraping up his forehead. “An 8 on the crash-landing scale,” he quipped.
Yelich’s throw might’ve beat him, but Realmuto couldn’t hang onto it. Which was a fortuitous thing, because Werth didn’t touch the plate on his first pass. Tyler Moore, standing in the on-deck circle, yelled at him to touch it, so Werth crawled on all fours to get there and ensure plate umpire Chris Conroy gave the safe sign.
“I don’t even know what happened,” Werth said. “I hit my head too hard or something. I need to look at the replay. Desi’s already got the Vine of it up on the team chat … in super slow-mo. I’m sure it’s good.”
All was good for the Nationals at the end of this night. Sure, all they really did was delay the inevitable a bit longer. That’s not on their mind right now, though.
“Look, I mean, in this clubhouse it doesn’t matter if we’re winning or losing or anything,” Scherzer said. “We understand what it takes to play at this level. You have to play with absolutely everything you got. That’s just the way it is. I don’t care what the standings are, how you’ve been swinging the bat, how you’ve been throwing the ball. Every time you show up to the park and go out there and take the diamond, you got to bring it. Every single time. Because the other team is. Tonight, I thought we had a great A-effort out of everybody, and it showed.”
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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