PHILADELPHIA - Jayson Werth insists he hadn’t really thought about it, not entering this series, not even entering Wednesday night’s finale.
He’s made 17 trips to Citizens Bank Park as a member of the Nationals over the last seven years, playing in 52 games. He has long since blocked out the emotions that used to be associated with his trips here, the booing Phillies fans who turned the outfielder into a local villain after he signed a $126 million contract with the Nationals, completely forgetting the role he played in helping Philadelphia win its lone championship of the last 34 years.
But until sometime during Wednesday’s 7-5 loss, Werth hadn’t considered that he might be playing his final game inside this ballpark.
Werth has no way of knowing for sure if that will be true. All he knows at this point is that his contract with the Nationals expires at the end of the season, and the Nats will not be playing any more games in Philadelphia in 2017.
Will Werth, who turns 39 in May, get a job with another National League club in 2018? Or an American League team that happens to come to Philly for interleague play? Or might this be it for him?
As those thoughts finally swirled through his head during the latter stages of Wednesday’s game, he decided to make an appropriate gesture to Phillies fans before his ninth-inning at-bat. No, not that gesture some might consider appropriate for the most notoriously nasty sports fans in America. A more genuine one.
When Werth’s name was announced by longtime P.A. announcer Dan Baker, and as many in what remained of a crowd of 17,642 booed with a little extra vigor than they had earlier in the night, he took off his helmet and tipped it to the crowd.
A few cheered. Some booed even louder. Many may not have even noticed.
But to Werth, it was a poignant moment, a final thank you to the city where he blossomed into a player who could fetch a $126 million contract.
“Well, seven years ago in my first at-bat here, I tipped my cap,” he said. “And a short seven years later, here I am. Nothing’s guaranteed in this game. I felt like maybe this could be my last at-bat in this park. I had a lot of good times in this town, this stadium, regardless of what it sounds like. I feel like my career kind of was made as a Phillie. I was just paying my respects. Just in case.”
No matter the reception he was getting from the stands, Werth has always enjoyed playing at Citizens Bank Park. And he’s got the numbers to prove it. In 52 road games wearing a Nationals uniform, he hit .291 with 15 homers, 45 RBIs, a .364 on-base percentage and .922 OPS.
And so it wasn’t all that surprising when Werth - who has struggled to find his stroke at the plate since returning from a fractured left foot one month ago - made some of his best contact in weeks Wednesday night.
After drawing a walk in his first plate appearance, Werth sent a drive soaring to deep left-center in the top of the fourth. He paused and flipped his bat, thinking he had just homered ... only to watch as Odubel Herrera robbed him with a leaping catch at the wall.
No matter, because one inning later, Werth drilled a ball down the left field line. It bounced high off the wall and brought home two runs as he coasted into second base.
“I’m feeling better,” he said. “It’s been a little bit of a struggle. I haven’t felt that bad. My shoulder was bothering me a little bit, but that’s getting better. And my timing’s good. I just need to hit it a few more feet. A lot of wall balls. It’s a lot of good signs, and I’m feeling pretty comfortable. We’ve still got a few more games and a few more at-bats.”
The only at-bats Werth knows for sure he’ll be taking now, though, will come at Nationals Park and then at Wrigley Field (site of Games 3 and 4 of the National League Division Series). Maybe he’ll get more someplace else after that, whether later in October or next year. Maybe they’ll come in a Nationals uniform. Maybe they won’t.
Werth has reached that point in his career, however, in which thoughts start crossing his mind. And so he finds himself taking an extra look around, soaking in a few more moments, doffing his cap. Just in case.