Trying to reduce the game that ultimately sunk the 2016 Nationals to one moment is an impossible task. This affair was too much of a thrilling, beautiful mess that oversimplification doesn't do it justice.
Between all the unconventional managerial moves, the hour-plus seventh inning, the unlikely appearance of Clayton Kershaw, Game 5 of the NL Division series between the Nats and L.A. Dodgers will go down as a classic that will take days — if not weeks — to unpack.
But in a contest that had so many twists and turns, there will be some who still won't be able to get past what Bob Henley did in the sixth inning.
With the Nats up 1-0 and two out, their third base coach opted to send Jayson Werth toward the plate on a two-out double down the left field line from Ryan Zimmerman. The problem? Werth was trying to score from first, and Dodgers left fielder Andrew Toles got the relay throw in time to shortstop Corey Seager.
Werth was thrown out at the plate — and it wasn't even close. Catcher Yasmani Grandal caught Seager's relay while Werth was around 30 feet away, and waited to put the tag on him.
“Does it hurt? Sure, it hurts,” Henley said in a hushed tone afterward. “Anytime it doesn’t work out and you feel like it might have cost us.”
The play ended the inning, denying Washington a desperately-needed insurance run in a game that ended in a 4-3 loss.
“I know [Werth]’s not an above-average runner, I understand that,” Henley said. “But we’ve been aggressive all year as a club, and I took a shot at it.”
“He's aggressive and there's two outs,” added manager Dusty Baker. “And with the hitters we had coming up after, he feels terrible about that because it didn't work. But Toles got to the ball very quickly, got rid of it, and you know, did what he was supposed to do, hit the cut-off man.”
Indeed, Henley’s aggressiveness is well known in the clubhouse. He’s affectionately known as “Sendley” to players, and they’ve been seen wearing shirts that honor his mentality: “Send ‘em one, send ‘em all, send ‘em short, send ‘em tall.”
That mindset puts pressure on defenders to force them into making the perfect throw, which doesn’t always happen. On Thursday night, it did, and it cost the Nats dearly.
“We’ve been aggressive ever since I’ve been here on that play,” said Werth. “You live and die by those moments sometimes.”
The move was criticized instantaneously as many took to social media to voice their frustration about the risky call.
Waving Jayson Werth home cuz why? https://t.co/S4cBvL3R7n— Dan Worthington (@danWorthington) October 14, 2016
Jayson Werth was out by almost 3000 feet— more than two Empire State Buildings pic.twitter.com/KBBzrKd0Zl— Big Baller Dinger (@atf13atf) October 14, 2016
As Baker mentioned after the game, the blunder was not the sole reason the Nats are going home early. They were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position in Game 5. They struck out 12 times. They couldn't drive runners in from third base with less than two out. And most of all, the four-run frame they yielded in the seventh inning proved to be too much to overcome.
But the image of Werth being cut down at home could come to symbolize what this night, this series and this brief playoff run was — a missed opportunity.
“Heartbroken," Henley said. "I’m heartbroken. Our goal was to win it all. We’re a tight-knit bunch. We gave it all that we had. I’m just so proud of the guys and everyone. Just heartbroken.”