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Werth's homer for Nats forces Game 5 against Cards

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Werth's homer for Nats forces Game 5 against Cards

WASHINGTON (AP) Joyous, bouncing teammates waiting to greet him at home, the red-clad crowd raucous as can be, Jayson Werth yanked off his red batting helmet with two hands and thrust it a dozen or more feet overhead.

A little less than two years ago, the Washington Nationals showered Werth with millions, persuading him to come show them how to win. On Thursday night, with one swing of his black bat, Werth delivered a game-ending homer to extend his club's surprising season and wipe away whatever disappointments marred his days in D.C.

Werth led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a 13-pitch at-bat against reliever Lance Lynn that ended with the ball landing beyond the wall in left field, giving the Nationals a tense 2-1 victory over the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals and forcing a deciding Game 5 in their NL division series.

``That's the way that game should have ended: Jayson Werth hitting a home run,'' Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. ``He has not hit that many this year. ... Unbelievable. Great effort on his part.''

The best-of-five series will end Friday night in Washington, with the winner advancing to face the San Francisco Giants in the NL championship series. The starters will provide a rematch of Game 1, which Washington won, with Gio Gonzalez on the mound for the NL East champion Nationals, and Adam Wainwright for the wild-card Cardinals.

``It's what you play all season for, and what you work out all winter for, and what you get to spring training early for,'' Werth said. ``We have a chance tomorrow to take that next step. I know my teammates will be ready. And the city will, too.''

The homer was Werth's first of the series, the 14th of his postseason career. He won the 2008 World Series and a string of division titles with the Philadelphia Phillies, then moved to Washington before last season as a free agent on a $126 million, seven-year contract that stunned much of baseball.

He managed to hit only five homers and 31 RBIs in 2012, missing 75 games because of a broken left wrist. Last year, his first in Washington, Werth hit only .232 with 58 RBIs, and there was grumbling about his worth.

That vanished at dusk Thursday, when Werth circled the bases, raising his right index finger in a ``No. 1'' gesture, while the announced attendance of 44,392 roared, and the other Nationals raced out of their dugout to greet him.

``I'm just happy that these fans got to see it, because obviously he had a rough year last year, and he got hurt this year, and I don't think the fans realize how good of a player Jason is,'' Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. ``For him to have a moment like this in front of the home fans, and in front of this atmosphere, I couldn't be happier for him. He deserves it.''

Werth's arrival certainly coincided with a quick turnaround: The Nationals lost 100 games in 2008 and 2009, but led the majors with 98 wins this year.

``When I signed here, my first day here, I went to a Capitals game, a hockey game, (and) the place was packed. Somebody said, `Just a few short years ago, this place was empty.' So I knew that a winning ballclub would bring the fans,'' Werth said, ``and here we are, two years later, and they're showing up and it's awesome.''

Werth's shot provided a sudden end to a classic postseason contest filled with tremendous pitching. Each team managed only three hits.

Lynn, usually a starter for St. Louis but a reliever in these playoffs, was making his third appearance of this series.

``Heater. He beat me,'' Lynn said, then paused before continuing. ``I've had success this series with him, and, you know, everyone in the stadium knew what I was throwing there.''

Especially Werth.

``It was just a matter of time,'' Lynn added. ``I was challenging him, and he was up for it.''

The righty was the Cardinals' third pitcher - facing only one batter - and manager Mike Matheny was asked afterward why he didn't use closer Jason Motte.

``If we were at home, it would have been a very easy decision to bring in Motte,'' Matheny said, explaining that if he used up his closer and St. Louis went ahead later in the game, a reliever not used to getting a save would have needed to try.

``Had a lot of confidence in Lance. He came in throwing the ball well,'' Matheny added. ``Werth just put together a very good at-bat.''

Cardinals batters decidedly did not down the stretch. They made eight consecutive outs via strikeouts against three Nationals pitchers - Jordan Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, who threw the top of the ninth and got the win. Zimmermann was making the first relief appearance of his career.

``All of them were throwing harder than I've seen them throw,'' Johnson said.

Storen walked No. 8 hitter Pete Kozma with two outs, before getting pinch hitter Matt Carpenter out on a twisting, stumbling overhead catch by shortstop Ian Desmond, who wound up sliding on his belly in short left field. When Desmond rose, he threw the ball into the stands and yelled.

Moments later, Werth had all the towel-twirling spectators yelling, too, thanks to the way he turned on a 96 mph fastball. For much of the game, the hometown fans were rather quiet, perhaps dreading a sooner-than-expected end to their team's better-than-expected year.

Starters Kyle Lohse, who won the wild-card playoff game for St. Louis against Atlanta last week, and Ross Detwiler were both superb. Lohse lasted seven innings, allowing one run and two hits. Detwiler went six, with one unearned run and three hits all he conceded, and called Werth's homer, ``One of the best moments of my life.''

Lohse was replaced by Mitchell Boggs, who struck out pinch hitter Chad Tracy with a man on to end the eighth, before giving way to Lynn.

While nearly to a man - except, naturally, for Werth - the young Nationals are new to this sort of thing, the Cardinals have quite the postseason pedigree: Over the past two years, St. Louis is 5-0 in games where it faces elimination, including must-have victories in Games 6 and 7 of the 2011 World Series against the Texas Rangers.

``We got a lot of experience, a lot of confidence built. Just going to the World Series and winning the World Series, having to play a Game 7 and come out on top - you're seeing a lot of us use that experience so far in this postseason,'' St. Louis first baseman Allen Craig said.

Washington entered Game 4 with all sorts of problems at the plate in the series: 3 for 24 with runners in scoring position, 30 men left on base, a total of only seven runs. Despite those struggles, Johnson didn't make any changes at all to his lineup.

As it turned out, the Nationals didn't have an at-bat with anyone in scoring position all game. Both runs came on solo shots.

Cleanup hitter Adam LaRoche put Washington ahead 1-0 in the second, and the Cardinals tied it in the next inning without a hit. Detwiler walked Kozma - a rookie Johnson referred to as ``Cosmos'' before the game - and after a sacrifice bunt, Jon Jay reached on an error when Desmond booted a grounder. Carlos Beltran's sac fly scored Kozma.

No more scoring until the ninth, when Werth ended things.

A night earlier, Werth watched on TV as Raul Ibanez - his former Phillies teammate, now with the Yankees - pinch-hit for Alex Rodriguez in the bottom of the ninth and homered to tie an ALDS game against the Orioles, then went deep again in the 12th to win it. He traded texts with his buddy Ibanez.

Werth also tuned in to see Oakland rally to beat Detroit on Wednesday after trailing entering the ninth.

``Baseball, this time of year, is the best time for sports. I love October baseball,'' Werth said. ``Here we are a day later, and I got an opportunity and came through.''

Which means Werth - and the Nationals - get to keep playing.

NOTES: Nationals rookie Bryce Harper was hitless in three at-bats, leaving him 1 for 18 in the series. ... In Game 3 on Wednesday, Cardinals RHP Chris Carpenter became only the second starting pitcher in baseball history to win a postseason game after not having any wins during the regular season, according to STATS LLC.

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter athttp://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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Nationals Roundup: Nats in danger of sweep after coughing up late lead to Mets

Nationals Roundup: Nats in danger of sweep after coughing up late lead to Mets

The Nationals lost to the New York Mets, 6-1, Wednesday to drop their record to 19-30.

Consider these news pieces and notes as Washington limps through its four-game series in New York: 

Players Notes:

NATIONALS (19-30): 

'Mad Max' was in full effect Wednesday night, doing what he does. Max Scherzer pitched six scoreless innings of four-hit baseball while issuing two walks and striking out nine Mets. 73 of his 109 pitches were thrown for strikes. His 11-pitch 6th inning put the bullpen in a position for success. But, if you've been watching this team this season, you know what that means. 

Adam Eaton's first base hit of the series came in the form of a first-inning dinger off Jacob deGrom. That's the only run that would come across the plate for Washington Wednesday night. 

For once, it wasn't Sean Doolittle's night. The closer surrendered a bases-clearing double to Juan Lagares in the 8th and the Mets never looked back notching six unanswered runs late. 

METS (23-25): 

Jacob deGrom was once again in elite form going head-to-head against Scherzer. New York's ace threw six innings of two-hit baseball while only allowing one run (Eaton's solo shot) and walking three Nats. 63 of his 103 pitches were thrown for strikes and he struck out eight batters. 

Offensive production didn't come until the 11th hour for New York. The Juan Lagares double and Rajai Davis 3-run home run combined to tally six runs in the 8th leading the Mets to their 23rd win of the year. 

Injuries: 

SP Jeremy Hellickson: hamstring, expected to be out until at least May 31

RP Justin Miller: shoulder, expected to be out until at least May 31

SP Anibal Sanchez: hamstring, expected to be out until at least May 27

OF Andrew Stevenson: back, expected to be out until at least May 24

1B Ryan Zimmerman: foot, expected to be out until at least May 23

RP Koda Glover: elbow, expected to be out until at least May 25

RP Trevor Rosenthal: viral infection, Expected to be out until at least May 21

RP Austen Williams: shoulder, expected to be out until at least Jun 13

Coming Up:

Thursday, 5/23: Nationals @ Mets, 12:10 p.m. ET, Citi Field

Friday, 5/24: Marlins @ Nationals, 7:05 p.m. ET, Nationals Park

Saturday, 5/25: Marlins @ Nationals, 4:05 p.m. ET, Nationals Park 

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This time, closer Sean Doolittle costs the Nationals a game

This time, closer Sean Doolittle costs the Nationals a game

NEW YORK -- The Washington Nationals lost to the New York Mets, 6-1, Wednesday to drop their record to 19-30. Here are five observations from the game...

1.  What to say when the only person to trust can’t deliver?

That’s the status for these Washington Nationals, now 11 games under .500 after Sean Doolittle's worst outing since arriving in Washington, sliding further and further away, unable to stumble into wins and only capable of hunting down ways to lose.

A night after curious bullpen usage which delivered yet another wrenching loss, and was followed Wednesday afternoon by a pep-talk focused team meeting, manager Davey Martinez dispatched his knee-quaking posse of relievers in superior fashion.

Joe Ross opened the seventh with an out. Matt Grace followed with two. Six outs to go in a 1-0 game for the league’s worst bullpen.

Kyle Barraclough started the eighth. He struck out J.D. Davis. Adeiny Hechavarria doubled, though the ball should have been caught by Juan Soto. Pete Alonso grounded out. Todd Frazier came to the plate and options arrived. A mound visit was followed by a four-pitch walk to Frazier. Doolittle entered the game to face light-hitting veteran Carlos Gomez. Stomach-churning chaos followed.

Doolittle hit Gomez with his first pitch -- his first beaned batter of the year and first since May 29, 2018. Juan Lagares doubled two pitches later to clear the bases. Wilson Ramos was intentionally walked. Pinch-hitter Rajai Davis hit a three-run homer two pitches into his at-bat.

That was the end for Doolittle, who walked off the mound with a stunned look. The one reliable piece in the league’s worst bullpen had as disastrous a night as possible, flushing Max Scherzer’s start, throwing aside rare quality work from other relievers, sending the Nationals to their fourth consecutive loss in this can’t-get-right season.

What followed was a stupefied clubhouse beginning to process just how dire the situation is on May 22.

Adam Eaton wondered where answers are and said they need to come now.

“We need to do something different sooner rather than later,” Eaton said. “We've talked about this for weeks now. Just haven't been playing good baseball.”

Martinez said he was “shocked” by Doolittle’s off-kilter outing.

“I tell them all the time: This thing will turn around,” Martinez said. “It’s going to turn around. But we have to believe that it will. We have to will it. It’s time that we just believe that we’re good enough to play here, cause we are. And we’ve got to make it happen. We’ve got to make things happen. And stay strong. Stay together. Stay strong. Pull for your teammates. And this thing will turn around.”

Doolittle had a hard time wrapping his head around his rare 12-pitch crumbling.

“I don't know, it's tough and it's a tough spot to come in and the context of how our season's going it hurts you even more,” Doolittle said. “To have Max pitch so well tonight and the guys grind it out....shoot I don't know. I'm really frustrated. I'm disgusted with myself and I let the team down. And it hurts.”

Scherzer was stern in his comments about a spiraling season.

“When you face adversity, this is when you reveal yourself,” Scherzer said. “Whether you have the mental fortitude to come back and you can block out all the negativity that's probably going to surround us right now. You've got to come forward to the game with that positive attitude of knowing what you can control and that you have the right mindset that you're going to go out there and compete and compete at 100 percent. You have to think of all the little things you can do.”

There were those two words again: “little things.” They have conspired against the Nationals this year, undermining an-almost $200 million payroll, increasingly putting the manager’s future in jeopardy and ratcheting up calls for sweeping change. There’s been nothing little about them, and nothing the Nationals have figured out on the field or off to stop them from snuffing out the year before the season is even close to half done.

2. Scherzer needed 109 pitches to make it through six innings. The most important of those was his final one. The 11-pitch sixth gave the Nationals three fewer outs to pawn off on the bullpen. Scherzer opened the inning at 98 pitches before briskly working through Todd Frazier, Carlos Gomez and Juan Lagares.

He allowed four hits, struck out nine and walked two. The night drove Scherzer’s ERA down to 3.41. It all mattered little in the end.

“You just take it inning by inning, try to execute pitches,” Scherzer said. “I thought tonight I had a good inning out of the windup, had a good rocker step, and there were some pitches that I threw tonight that I executed well because I was nice and tall throughout my delivery. It kind of let me be able to pick up some consistency kind of early in the game and late in the game. When my delivery is right, and my slot is in the right spot, that’s when I execute all my pitches. So I felt like I was in better position tonight overall than I have been in the past.”

Why was Scherzer back to the mound after 98 pitches in five innings? Because of losses six weeks ago, three weeks ago, last week and this week. A team 10 games under .500 has to squeeze everything it can out of its ace on May 22. Time for a margin of error has eroded. What happened back then (losing series to Miami, for instance) piles up to have a grand influence on later.

3. Grace has been used as a matchup left-hander recently. He’s found that life more appealing.

Grace matched up with Cubs left-hander Anthony Rizzo and recorded an out Sunday. He faced Robinson Cano on Tuesday to pick up a ground out. Wednesday, Grace was brought in to face left-handed pinch-hitter Dominic Smith. Smith grounded out to first. Grace remained in to face Amed Rosario and recorded another ground ball out.

The Nationals are trying to put Grace in spots to get his feet back on the ground after a night as the punching bag at the end of a blowout loss against the Chicago Cubs last Friday (and a down season overall). So far, this role has been better.

4. Remember the extended minor-league assignments for after players were hurt? That’s gone. And the results are not great.

Matt Adams was activated Wednesday. Adrian Sanchez was sent to Double-A Harrisburg to make room on the 25-man roster.

Adams did all his rehabilitation work with the major-league team. He took batting practice on the field and in the batting cages before that. He also took ground balls and infield practice. What he didn’t do was go on a minor-league assignment despite not playing since May 3. The Nationals judged him ready to play because his swing looked in place against a pitching machine.

Wednesday, he made a crucial error in the first inning. Robinson Cano rolled a small ground ball to first, Adams fielded, pivoted and threw toward second base, where the runner on first was heading. The ball never came close to the bag. It went to the outfield instead, which presented the Mets with runners on second and third and one out instead of a runner on first and one out (or a chance at a longshot double play). It, most importantly, cost Scherzer more pitches.

Scherzer pitched his way out of it as he often has this season. He came into the game leading the league in FIP (fielding-independent pitching).

Trea Turner played just two games for Triple-A Potomac after missing seven weeks. Asked how many games he would have preferred to play there, Turner said one. He made two wayward throws his first game back with the Nationals.

So, instantly putting these guys back on the field -- which is every player’s preference and a spot the Nationals’ record has leveraged them into -- is not ideal.

5.  Kyle McGowin will start Friday. His visit to the rotation is expected to be temporary.

McGowin will pitch in Jeremy Hellickson’s spot. He was up to give length in the bullpen. Like Erick Fedde, he’ll be drawn away from the relievers to fill a rotation spot.

McGowin is a sinker-ball pitcher. He made one start at the end of last season. He also is currently suspended by the Pacific Coast League after a substance was found in his glove following an inspection by umpires during his last outing.

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