Associated Press photo
Jayson Werth is mobbed after delivering the game-winning hit in the 13th inning.
So by the time he stepped up to bat in the bottom of the 13th inning, the bases loaded with Nationals, fewer than half of the original crowd of 26,959 still in attendance, Jayson Werth figured it was time to put an end to this madness.
Really, what other choice was there at 11:12 p.m. on a Friday night?
"You play that long and not get a win?" Werth said. "That would hurt."
Yes, a loss would've stung. But a 2-1 victory over the Reds, thanks to Werth's walk-off single up the middle past a drawn-in Cincinnati infield? That was as sweet as it gets.
The Nationals' fourth straight victory -- the second straight in extra innings -- continued their impressive run through the season's inaugural week. At 6-2, they remain all alone in first place in the NL East.
And they're doing it in heart-stopping fashion on a near-nightly basis, plating the winning run in the eighth inning or later four times already this year.
"We're having fun," Ryan Zimmerman said.
Fun? Sure, that may be the vibe inside the Nationals' clubhouse after these nip-and-tuck ballgames are over. But the manner in which they've played out has been anything but a pleasant stroll through the meadow, especially when it comes to their uncanny aversion to scoring runs.
For most of the night, the Nationals tried their best to waste yet another fabulous pitching performance by Jordan Zimmermann, whose final line (one earned run allowed in seven innings) mirrored that of his previous start in Chicago. On both occasions, the young right-hander wasn't rewarded with a win.
At least the Nationals managed to get Zimmermann off the hook for a tough-luck loss this time, thanks to Xavier Nady, whose pinch-hit homer in the bottom of the eighth tied the game 1-1 and brought new life to the ballpark.
"I knew they were going to need more than one run to beat us," Zimmermann said. "Thank god Nady hit that home run."
Summoned by Davey Johnson to pinch-hit for Chad Tracy, who had already been announced as a pinch-hitter, Nady delivered his first clutch hit since becoming a surprise member of the Nationals' Opening Day roster.
"To tell you the truth, a lot of it came out of nowhere," said Nady, who was unemployed in mid-March before signing a minor-league contract with the Nationals. "I didn't anticipate I was going to play like this. But I'm happy to be here. It's a wonderful organization and a good group of guys."
Nady's homer represented the fourth RBI by Nationals pinch-hitters already this year. They produced only 14 RBI off the bench all of last season.
But they still needed to score another run to actually win this game. And they needed to prevent the Reds from scoring one first.
Baseball's deepest bullpen took care of that second task. Five relievers (Ryan Mattheus, Henry Rodriguez, Brad Lidge, Tom Gorzelanny, Craig Stammen) followed up Zimmermann's gem by combining to toss six innings of two-hit ball.
Squeezing out that one final run to get over the hump, though, proved a tall task for a lineup that has squandered plenty of opportunities through eight games. Washington went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position through the first 12 innings of this one, perhaps at times trying too hard to deliver in the clutch.
"Everybody is, a lot of times, trying to do too much, trying to hit one out of the yard or something like that," Johnson said. "And sometimes it makes it easier on the pitcher, because he knows that's what the hitter's trying to do, so you don't give in to them."
The winning rally in the 13th, then, was made possible not by any big blast but by four consecutive quality at-bats. Danny Espinosa got things started by beating out a grounder to the hole at shortstop. Reds closer Sean Marshall then walked both Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche, loading the bases with one out for Werth.
With the infield and the outfield drawn in out of desperation, Werth worked the count to 1-2, then sent a groundball up the middle past that drawn-in infield to bring Espinosa home and ignite a mad celebration near first base.
As he was mobbed by teammates, Werth broke out in a smile and acknowledged the fans that remained til the end and serenaded the veteran right fielder with cheers. Perhaps some of those same fans regularly booed Werth during his dismal first season in Washington.
"I think there's more people that like him than don't like him," Zimmerman said. "It's just that the people that don't like him are louder. I think baseball people understand. It's not easy to come over and just hit .300 with 30 and 100. It's not easy to do that any more. I think if you look at his game as all-around, the way he helps on defense and baserunning and working walks and what he does in the clubhouse, I think a lot of people don't get to see the outside of him. I think they just look for numbers and what happens on the field. And that's a little undervalued for all the other things he does."
Werth was simply happy to give those fans something to cheer.
"I thought it was awesome," he said. "That was a long game on a Friday night, and there are probably a few other places they could have been. But they hung in there pretty good, and I thought it was good. I've definitely seen not only here, but other places, where by the 11th inning there's no one in the seats. So I thought that was awesome."