Tonight might well be the last one of these the 38-year-old outfielder gets to experience. And because of that, more than a few of his teammates have made it known they’re trying to win this October for one of the guys whose arrival in D.C. had the largest impact on taking this franchise to its current perch.
“Well, I want to win for them,” Werth said Wednesday night following the Nationals’ 5-0 victory over the Cubs in Game 4. “It’s been a great seven years in Washington. I love it here. I love these guys. I want nothing more than to win, but I want to win for them. It’s great that they say that. It makes me feel good. But there’s only a couple of us on this team that have been to the top. I want us to experience it. I want to get to the top. I want Dusty to get his championship. But tomorrow’s a big day. We’ve got to win tomorrow.”
And so another Game 5 will be played on South Capitol Street, the third such Game 5 in the last six seasons. The previous two didn’t end so well.
On Oct. 12, 2012, the Nats blew a six-run lead to the Cardinals, who twice were down to their last strike before rallying for a 9-7 victory that still reverberates in D.C. sports lore. And on Oct. 13, 2016, the Nats gave up four runs to the Dodgers in the top of the seventh, got back to within one run but ultimately stranded the tying runner in scoring position during a 4-3 loss that one year later is no easier to swallow.
So, they’ve been here before. Does that make any difference come 8:08 p.m. tonight?
“No,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “Nothing makes a difference, except for what happens tomorrow. I think we’ve beaten this horse to the ground. If you want to say experience helps or it hurts, then you guys can say whatever you want. We’ve got to show up and play a good game tomorrow. And if we don’t, we’ll lose. If we do, we’ll win.”
The Nationals’ hopes of reaching the National League Championship Series for the first time ever, and for becoming Washington’s first major pro team to reach its league’s semifinal round for the first time in 19 years, will rest in large part on the performance of whichever pitchers take the mound for this showdown.
And the identity of those pitchers is not yet known for sure.
Manager Dusty Baker did not name a Game 5 starter Wednesday night, insisting that decision had not yet been made in the immediate aftermath of a Game 4 victory made possible by Stephen Strasburg’s dominant performance only hours after he was named the starter despite the illness he had been battling for several days.
“We’re not sure yet,” Baker said. “We’re going to make up our mind, see the condition of everybody and, like I said, I’m not sure. I’m not trying to be coy at all, because that was the theme of the day, you know, with Stras. Whoever it is, I hope they pitch like Stras did today.”
That might be too much to ask of any of the candidates for the assignment. Baker did say the choice likely would come down to Gio Gonzalez or Tanner Roark. Gonzalez, who allowed three runs in five innings in Game 2, would be pitching on normal rest. Roark, who for about 18 hours thought he was going to start Game 4 until Strasburg declared himself good to go, has not appeared in any games since the Nationals’ regular season finale 11 days ago and hasn’t started a game in 15 days.
And then there’s Max Scherzer, who was prepared to throw one inning of relief in Game 4, two days after he threw 98 pitches in a dominant start. Now three days removed from that outing, the ace is more rested and might be good for a couple of innings if needed.
It’s a classic “All Hands on Deck” game for a team that can’t afford to save any bullets for another game that might never come. And it comes on the heels of a confidence-building Game 4 for a Nationals team that was staring elimination in the face and lived to see another day.
“For me, I think the momentum’s huge,” shortstop Trea Turner said. “I think last year the Dodgers kind of did it to us (winning Game 4 to force Game 5). I’m hoping that kind of feels the same way this year, as we have got the momentum going back home, and kind of keep it rolling.”
The Nationals know well that they ultimately will be defined by the outcome of tonight’s game. They know that the club’s previously most-iconic win came via Werth’s walk-off homer against the Cardinals in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS. One night later, that meant nothing when Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma etched their names onto a short list of D.C.’s most-hated opposing athletes.
Now, five years to the day of that soul-crushing Game 5 loss to St. Louis, these Nationals have an opportunity to create a new memory and forever change the perception of this good-but-still-not-great franchise.
“This is what it’s all about,” Bryce Harper said. “Going out there in front of our fans and trying to win a ballgame.”