The crowd was smaller - only 44,392, just the third-largest in Nationals Park history - but it finally got a chance to erupt when Jayson Werth hit a walk-off homer into the Cardinals’ bullpen in left field for a 2-1 Nationals victory.
Werth noticed a distinct difference in the stands Wednesday afternoon and Thursday night.
“It hasn’t been packed. We’ve sold out, but it wasn’t like it was,” he explained. “You know, a lot of times, it’s a little mix of some of our fans and some of the other team’s fans. Today, it seemed like ... the last two days, it was all our fans.”
And, boy, did they enjoy the celebration Werth’s decisive blast touched off. As his teammates mobbed him at home plate, security guards and grounds crew members danced along the right-field line, high-fiving one another. While members of the Nats bullpen raced in from right field, the crowd roared long and loud.
The video scoreboard replayed Werth’s clout over and over again, and each time, the red-clad fans reacted as if they were seeing it as it happened. No one wanted to leave the party, players lingering on the field for Werth’s postgame interview on TBS and fans luxuriating in the moment.
It was, perhaps, a turning point for the franchise. Over the course of the last few weeks, as the Nats’ pennant-clinching game drew nearer, the stands slowly swelled. Maybe they weren’t all sellouts, but there were certainly more fans in the ballpark and Nationals Park seemed more engaged than ever.
“I mean, seems like the last two months, our crowd here has been electric,” manager Davey Johnson said. “And it translates to the players. We feed off it. You know, my guys like playing for a packed house and they were up on their feet, waving those red flags and giving us red instead of white. It was fun and really fun for me. I don’t get excited too much, but I was excited to see the crowd.”
The lovefest has been long in the making. Ignore that the few Cardinals fans wearing red blended in with the Nationals rooters. Never mind that a few of those in attendance recently jumped on a winner’s bandwagon. No one cares that those who are now baseball-crazed may have had trouble distinguishing between a pop fly and a Pop-Tart when the Nationals weren’t winning with any regularity.
“That’s the loudest I’ve heard it anywhere I’ve ever played.” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “That was the best atmosphere, the coolest moment I’ve ever been a part of.”
Zimmerman is quick to point out that the Nats clubs that lost more than 100 games in 2008 and 2009 didn’t really give fans many reasons to come to the ballpark, much less cheer.
And when the largest crowd in Nats Park history fell silent amid an 8-0 blowout loss in Game 3 on Wednesday, Zimmerman said he and his teammates felt like they’d missed a golden opportunity to turn a corner.
“All of is felt bad the way we played yesterday, with that crowd,” Zimmerman said. “There was so much energy just waiting, waiting for something to get it out and we didn’t give them anything to do it with. I think today to come out and have a game like that - from the first inning on, they were great all night. Getting up with two strikes, getting up with 3-1 counts when we were up. ... For us to finally get to this point, have the foundation to be at this point for a long time, I’m more excited for the fans.”