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Jayson Werth is congratulated by Ian Desmond upon scoring the winning run.
Obviously, Werth had ample opportunity to analyze the situation at hand. Bottom of the 10th. Tie game. One out. Ivan Rodriguez at the plate.
And one clear thought came to mind: Steal third base.
"In that situation, with one out, I'd rather be on third than on second," Werth said. "I just felt like, it was time to make something happen. It felt right."
So he took off as Marmol delivered his first pitch and slid safely into third base. Cubs catcher Geovany Soto never even attempted to throw him out. Werth's jump was too good. He caught everyone in the ballpark by surprise.
"There was no sign for that," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "It was just his read, and boom, he's over there. That's a winning attitude."
A winning attitude that actually produced a win moments later when Marmol's slider to Rodriguez sailed to the backstop and Werth scampered home with the run that gave the Nationals a 5-4, extra-inning victory.
As he leaped into teammate Ian Desmond's arms near the on-deck circle, Werth heard the roar from a delirious Independence Day crowd of 32,937. Many of those same fans booed him mercilessly three innings earlier when he struck out with a chance to give his team the lead, his latest failure in a clutch spot during a homestand that has featured plenty of them.
This, though, was perhaps Werth's signature moment in a Nationals uniform. No, it didn't come on a home run, or a double or even a great throw to the plate (though he did have one of those earlier during Monday's game). It came with one burst of hustle, the kind of play anyone -- $126 million contract or minimum-salary deal -- could make, but not the kind of play everyone actually makes.
"Cheer me, boo me, whatever," he said. "I'm still going to go out there and play my game. Winning ballgames is the most important thing."
The Nationals are somehow winning ballgames right now, not every day but enough to hover right around the .500 mark (they now sit at 43-43). They pulled this one out in remarkable fashion, somehow scoring three runs over the game's final five innings despite producing only one base hit that left the infield.
They pulled it out despite missing Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse from the starting lineup, each dealing with nagging injuries.
They pulled it out despite 43-year-old fill-in first baseman Matt Stairs departing after banging his knee on a rail as he tried to track down a foul ball, a development that forced career outfielder Laynce Nix to switch to first base for the first time since high school.
They pulled it out with two pitchers needing to come off the bench as pinch-hitters, including Livan Hernandez, who dropped the picture-perfect sacrifice bunt that advanced Werth to second base during the 10th-inning rally.
This isn't exactly Johnson's preferred style of baseball. He admittedly likes the three-run homer over the sacrifice bunt. And he couldn't remember ever using two pitchers as pinch-hitters in the same game before.
But he also knows he can only manage what he's got. And what he's got right now is a somewhat-flawed roster that still finds a way to keep (and often win) close games.
"We've got guys that can go out of the ballpark," he said. "But we're scoring on groundballs in the infield and walks. It's not really a good comfort zone for me yet. But I think we're a much better ballclub than that, and I think we're going to show it in the second half."
Johnson was talking about his entire team, but he easily could have been referring specifically to Werth, who still isn't producing the big hits the Nationals were counting on when they signed him to that gargantuan contract but on Monday found plenty of other ways to contribute.
He did come through with a pair of RBI: one on a broken-bat single to right, another on a weak grounder to third. He drew two walks. He stole that key base in the 10th (though he also was caught stealing earlier in the game). He threw a runner out at the plate. He also was involved in a gross mis-communication in the outfield, pulling up short along with Roger Bernadina to watch a routine fly ball land in between them and allow two runs to score.
Werth hopes and believes he'll start producing in conventional ways soon. In the meantime, is he making a conscious effort to try to contribute in less-conventional ways?
"I wouldn't say it's a conscious effort," he said. "I'd classify it as just playing. I'm still doing what I do. ... You get hot, you get cold, you keep hustling, you keep playing the game hard. Do it the right way. Helping your team win: I think that's the most important thing. At the end of the year, if your team wins the World Series and you didn't hit all year, it really doesn't matter."
On this day, it didn't matter much to the crowd or the Nationals' clubhouse how low Werth's batting average had dropped, or whether he helped let a fly ball fall to the ground.
It mattered only that he scored the winning run that got this roller-coaster club back to the .500 mark.
"He plays the game the right way, and good things are going to happen with him," Rodriguez said. "He's doing a good job, even though offensively it's not there. He's going to be right there pretty soon. But all the things he does, it means a lot to us."