Werth's clutch hit caps dramatic ninth-inning rally by Nats

As Maikel Franco rounded the bases, Jonathan Papelbon watched from the mound and a crowd of 34,294 at Nationals Park booed, Dusty Baker had just one thought from the dugout.

"OK, Pap," the manager said in his mind to his closer. "We gave up one. Let's not give up any more. Because we can come back. It's a lot easier to get one than it is to get two to tie."

A big league manager has to have positive thoughts, has to see every situation as glass half-full, lest his players pick up on his own resignation and concede defeat themselves. But Baker had good reason to stay positive even after Franco's homer off Papelbon gave the Phillies a 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth inning this evening.

Baker did, after all, have a bench full of enticing pinch-hit options for the bottom of the ninth, including Bryce Harper, Ben Revere and Clint Robinson. And at the end of the day, he also had Jayson Werth looming in the distance to hit with the game possibly on the line.

Werth-Celebrates-White-Sidebar.jpgSo what proceeded to happen next - the furious rally that turned that ninth-inning deficit into a 5-4 walk-off victory - wasn't so much surprising to the Nationals as it was satisfying, given everything that came together to make it possible.

"Boy, that was some victory," Baker said, grinning from ear to ear.

Here's how it happened ...

It began, really, with one out, when Baker sent Harper (who had only his third day off for reasons other than injury or suspension) to pinch-hit for Chris Heisey. The crowd roared at the sight of the reigning league MVP and his walk-up song ("Flower" by Moby), then started chanting as the at-bat versus Phillies closer Jeanmar Gomez played out.

Harper worked the count full, then hit a sharp grounder to the right side. Second baseman Cesar Hernandez, shaded well over in that direction, made a tough play to get the ball and then tried to throw across his body to first base. That throw was just a tad high, forcing Tommy Joseph to leap. When Joseph came back down, his foot landed just to the side of the bag, so he felt the need to move it back just to make sure.

"When I came down, I was on the side of the base," Joseph told reporters. "I wasn't sure. It was too close, couldn't feel it. Obviously, if I couldn't feel it, that's why I went back and tried to tag it. And by then, it didn't look good, and the cameras weren't on my side."

Umpire Scott Barry called Harper safe, but the Phillies dugout wanted the play reviewed. During the interminable wait, Baker looked at bench coach Chris Speier, who was on the phone with the Nationals video team watching the replay. Speier waved his hand from side to side, suggesting it was a 50-50 call.

"Worry doesn't do any good," Baker said. "I was hopeful."

Eventually, the review official in New York said the call stood, and so the rally could continue.

Next up was Danny Espinosa, the free-swinging shortstop who has been on a home run binge of late - he hit his eighth in 14 games earlier in the afternoon - but now needed to put together a quality at-bat to extend the inning. Which is exactly what he did.

Espinosa fell behind 0-2, but then battled his way through the rest of the at-bat. He took ball one, then he fouled off two straight pitches. Finally, he stuck his bat out to connect with Gomez's 1-2 changeup off the plate and lined it to left field for a single.

"His changeup has a ton of depth to it, and his fastball is just the same," Espinosa said. "Just felt like I was trying to battle on close pitches, and the last one, just stayed through a little longer and was able to get a hit."

"He's been working on that," Baker said. "We keep stressing to him that when you get in a hole, you've got to put it in play. And if you put it in play, anything can happen. ... That was a huge, huge at-bat."

With runners now on first and second with one out, Baker sent up Revere (who also had the day off) to pinch-hit for the pitcher. The speedy outfielder made good contact, but his line drive was hit directly at left fielder Tyler Goeddel, so the Nationals were down to their final out.

Up next was yet another pinch-hitter, Robinson, batting for Michael A. Taylor. At this point, anyone who questioned Baker's unconventional decision to let starter Joe Ross bat for himself with two outs in the seventh of a tie game even though he wasn't going to pitch the eighth suddenly understood the rationale.

Baker wanted to save his pinch-hitters for a potential rally later. And he trusted the good-hitting Ross to give a quality at-bat anyway.

"That was an easy decision, because Joe can hit, No. 1," Baker said. "And No. 2, I knew I was taking him out of the game. And everybody on my bench was left-handed, all except (Jose) Lobaton, who's a switch-hitter. So that was a pretty easy decision."

Robinson displayed impressive patience given the situation and wound up drawing a walk. And so it all came down to Werth, the bases loaded and the game on the line.

This, of course, is nothing new for Werth, who has found himself standing in the box for scenarios just like this more times than he can remember during his career.

"You live for those moments," the 37-year-old said. "Grow up playing Wiffle ball in the backyard, you always run through those situations. Been lucky enough to get those chances and those opportunities over the course of my career. I want to win, I want to help my teammates win and be a part of a championship team. Whatever I can do."

It was only fitting that this turned into a classic Werth at-bat. Which means there would be two strikes on him before anything happened. Sure enough, after working the count to 2-2, he got a sinker from Gomez up and over the plate. He lashed it into center field, ran to first, and watched as Harper and then Espinosa came around to score the tying and go-ahead runs.

The entire dugout spilled out and made a beeline for Werth, who tried to escape via right field. He didn't get far enough to avoid the dogpile.

Not that Werth should have been surprised. He's been here before. He knows the routine.

"Jayson, no matter what he's doing or how he's playing, he's been a clutch man all these years," Baker said. "And clutch men know how to come through. Clutch men love to be in that situation."

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Espinosa's home run barrage continues (Werth walk-...

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