When the word finally came down from the umpires that Saturday’s game would resume after what wound up being a rain delay of 2 hours, 33 minutes, Nationals manager Davey Johnson noticed a spring in the steps of everyone in the clubhouse.
Never mind that the Nationals were three outs away from absorbing a loss to the Miami Marlins on a day when it was announced that their ace, Stephen Strasburg, was done for the season. Never mind that the deluge interrupted whatever momentum Washington had after a two-run homer by Ryan Zimmerman in the eighth inning had gotten them within 6-5. Never mind that there were only a few hundred hearty fans remaining in the stadium.
“I was really worried and so was (general manager Mike Rizzo) that they might bag it. I think they were real close, about a half an hour before we started up,” Johnson said. “There wasn’t much window. ... We had 10-minute notice to get ready. The energy when we heard we were going was, “Let’s get two (runs). Let’s get two.’ “
Jayson Werth had spent the extended delay studying tape with Triple-A hitting coach Troy Gingrich. Drew Storen had prepared as if he’d be pitching if the game went to extra innings. Corey Brown sat on the bench, hoping he’d get a chance to contribute.
The actions of all three weren’t wasted.
Werth led off the bottom of the ninth by crushing Heath Bell’s full-count pitch into the center field stands for a 6-6 tie. That gave Storen the chance to enter the game in the 10th, and he struck out the side, putting the finishing touches on a string that saw Christian Garcia, Tyler Clippard and Storen get strikeouts on eight of the final nine outs the bullpen recorded. And Brown came through with a bases-loaded fly ball that turned into a game-winning single in the 10th because the Marlins were playing with five infielders and only two outfielders.
Werth knew he’d get a pitch to hit when the count went to 2-2.
“I figured (Bell) wasn’t going to probably mess around with any breaking stuff,” he said. “He’s got a good fastball, likes to work up in the zone. I got a pitch that was probably top of the zone, but was up just enough. I was just trying to put a good swing on it. The last couple of days, I just kind of fell out of sync.”
“We just don’t give up,” said Brown. “We came out there and Werth got us off to a great start with the homer to tie it up. ... I’m just happy to get that first walk-off. It felt good. At first when I hit it, I completely forgot there was only outfielders out there. I was like, ‘Where is the right fielder at?’ I didn’t see him in the picture.”
Right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, stationed in the right-center gap, had a long run and got a glove on the looper but couldn’t hold on. That allowed Ian Desmond to cross with the winning run.
The batter before, catcher Kurt Suzuki, had grounded into an odd-looking - well, for the boxscore - 7-2 forceout at the plate after Marlins skipper Ozzie Guillen moved left fielder Justin Ruggiano to the center of the diamond to the left of second base. The ploy worked when Ruggiano gloved Suzuki’s sharply hit ball and fired home for the inning’s first out.
“I’ve never seen it work,” Johnson said of the five-infielder strategy.
Neither had Johnson seen a headfirst slide from notoriously slow baserunner Adam LaRoche, who motored from first to third on Desmond’s single to right after opening the 10th with a single.
“LaRoche set the whole thing up. He’s not the fastest runner. ... I’ve never seen him slide head-first. Ever,” Johnson said.
The Nationals had the chance because their bullpen clamped down on the Marlins, who hit a pair of first-inning homers off starter Ross Detwiler and because the offense kept chipping away at Miami’s lead despite a strong effort by Marlins starter Mark Buehrle.
“You just flip it in drive and go with it,” Storen said. “I feel like my slider’s been better each time out and anytime you can get a guy like Carlos Lee to swing through, it must be pretty good. He’s had pretty good at-bats against me all year and I’ve pretty much thrown a pitch that sinks at him every time. That was a good sign for me. He’s a really good hitter all-around, but really good with two strikes, so once that happened, I felt kind of good about my slider.”