That one play, really that one at-bat, made the game.
Bottom of the ninth, Anthony Rendon at first base, two outs. Brewers reliever Rob Wooten was on the cusp of getting out of the inning. He had relied on his slider and curveball to get to two outs and had made it difficult for any Nationals to get a good swing.
But veteran Jayson Werth is known for waiting out pitchers. He makes them come to him. He waited for Wooten to throw a strike. And he couldn’t early in the at-bat. A mixture of curveballs and sliders against a right-handed hitter kept hitting low and outside the zone.
The count was 3-0, then 3-1 on a borderline call by the home plate umpire.
That’s when Werth keyed in, knowing Wooten had to come back to the strike zone.
Finally he got Wooten to throw him a two-seam fastball. And Werth lined it to deep left field. The outfielder on the play, Khris Davis, had trouble retrieving the ball and getting it back to the cutoff man.
Rendon took off. He kept running. Third base coach Bobby Henley waved him home. Rendon scored standing up. The Nationals had a walk-off 5-4 win over the Brewers. The dugout erupted in celebration around Werth near the mound.
In strategy meetings before the game, the coaching staff had told the players they might be able to gobble up bases against Davis and the Milwaukee outfielders. Earlier in the series, Carlos Gomez had difficulty fielding a few balls in center that allowed the Nationals to easily secure second base.
“Our defensive coordinator (and advance coach Mark Weidemaier), Weed as we call him, we always talk about taking advantage of defenders,” Werth said. “That was one of the guys that we knew we could maybe take an extra base on. When I hit it, I knew Rendon was running, so I figured old ‘No Stop Sign’ Henley over there at third base, he’s just always waving guys around. So I assumed he was going to send him, I thought we had a chance. Good scouting and good baserunning by Rendon first to home there.”
Werth said it was not easy to get base hits against Milwaukee starter Yovani Gallardo. The veteran was able to mix his pitches well and was getting some calls. All until Ryan Zimmerman got the team back in the game with a two-run shot.
“He pitched good today,” Werth said of Gallardo. “He had good stuff. He was hitting spots. Keeping the ball down. Umpire kind of had a pitcher’s zone a little bit. He was getting some calls. When guys do that, it makes it tough. We were able to push a couple across. Zim with a huge hit.”
After losing the opener, the Nationals reeled off two wins to take the series from Milwaukee. They are 4-2 against the first-place Brewers this season. They are still tied for first place in the National League East with the equally hot Atlanta Braves. Now they head to Denver as they start a stretch of nine games away from home. But it’s the first extended road trip this season with the band back together, the starting nine healthy.
Although there might be cause for concern with Gio Gonzalez and his shoulder. He lasted 88 pitches and 3 1/3 innings on Sunday.
But the Nationals have won 12 of their last 17 games.
“We’ve been playing good ball, doing the little things: Baserunning, defense,” Werth said. “That’s what it’s going to take. If we want to play into the end of October, we’re gonna have to continue to do that and continue to win games and pitch and hit and do all the things that it takes.”