Every postseason story has great plays that become the trademark for a team. A huge double play. A timely run-scoring hit. A game-saving catch.
The Nationals had all three Sunday in their first postseason win, a 3-2 stunner at St. Louis in the National League Division Series opener.
In the bottom of the sixth, with the Cardinals leading 2-1 and David Freese at first base, second baseman Daniel Descalso launched a long fly ball to deep right field that had a very good chance of leaving Busch Stadium.
Except Nationals’ right fielder Jayson Werth had a bead on the ball and made a gigantic leaping catch for the second out in the inning. More importantly, he denied Descalso a two-run shot that would have given the Cardinals the insurance their vaunted pitching staff needed to put away Game 1.
Descalso got a hold of the Craig Stammen pitch and drove it through the shadows to the wall in front of the State Farm sign. Werth timed his jump perfectly and caught the ball as he ran into the wall. He quickly threw it back in to prevent Freese from advancing.
Werth admitted the transition from shadow to sun to shadow to sun made it difficult to track the flight of the ball.
“The visuals were tough in the outfield all day,” Werth told reporters. “And at the plate, too. This is a tough place to play as the day goes on. Luckily, on the ball that I caught at the wall, I went back and looked at it because I really wasn’t sure.
“I was surprised, actually, that I caught it because I was just having a hard time seeing it. When I went back and looked, my last couple steps at the wall, I went in the shade. And that allowed me to get a good bead on it and time out the jump. But up until then, I was pretty much panicking, cause it was a ball that I was pretty unsure on.”
Werth did not know if the play he made had saved a home run until he realized how far he had run to get to the wall and make the catch. The ball appeared to land in the palm of love and he still managed to hold onto it even with the collision against the wall.
“I had to go back and look because everything happened so fast,” Werth said. “When I caught it, I was pretty surprised.”
It was major theme in this game all afternoon: how the Nationals never let the Cardinals add to their 2-1 lead. So as the game went along, the lead became more precarious as the Nationals kept getting opportunity after opportunity to score.
“I felt like all day we were going to score some runs eventually,” Werth said. “We had a lot of chances. Man, we had some chances. I had some chances. I felt like we were going to score at some point. So I knew that was potentially going to be a big play, especially if we ended up winning.”
Any team that makes any run in any playoff needs to have defensive plays like these occur. Werth put a signature on game one with one of those plays that will be remembered for quite some time. At least until game two begins.