It’s over, again, in the first round, a result that slowed Jayson Werth’s words and watered his eyes. At 1:30 a.m. Friday, he stood in front of his locker with a beer in his right hand, a grey longsleeve shirt on and his game pants rolled up and still dirty. He wasn’t sure what he would do in the coming dawn hours following the Washington Nationals’ 9-8 loss he could not seem to understand. So many things went wrong. So many almost went right. The longest nine-inning postseason game in baseball history, all 4:37 on a cool night at Nationals Park, could be boiled down to one thing general thing afterward: heartbreak.
It’s over, again. The Nationals‘ loss in Game 5 of the National League Division Series to the Chicago Cubs pushed them out of baseball’s postseason in the first round for the fourth time in six years. No team in the District has advanced to a conference finals in the four major sports since 1998 despite 13 chances. The drought, much like Thursday night’s careening, largely incomprehensible game, is hard to fathom. Werth didn’t know where to start when trying to decipher what had happened on a night when he lost a ball in the lights, leading to a run, in a one-run postseason loss that mainlined mayhem and likely ended his time in Washington.
“This one’s…Usually, you lose a game or after a game you can look back at like three or four or five plays that changed the landscape of the game or decided the game,” Werth said. “I feel like there was like 50 plays in this game. It’s the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of.”
Werth considered rewatching the game to relive it, to “torture myself,” he said, before sitting down with the beverage in his right hand. He joked he was going to “sit there and pout” underneath the plastic that had been hanged in the clubhouse to push back liquid from any celebration.
A few minutes earlier, Max Scherzer kept putting his hands out to his sides after a laundry cart filled with red beer bottles had been dragged out a side door, all the caps still on. Thoughts formed in his head that made Scherzer’s arms go up, then back down, and his mouth remained closed.
“Just…” he said often after finishing an extended session with reporters where he tried to explain how the fifth inning devolved. When he ran in from the bullpen that inning, everyone in the stands stood because the Nationals had deployed the 2016 Cy Young Award winner to pitch in relief with a one-run lead. Washington would try to get through the fifth and sixth inning with him holding the minuscule lead, then turn things over to the effective relievers they traded for midseason to fix a beleaguered bullpen. Scherzer, who started his major-league career as a reliever and made an appearance out of the bullpen in the 2013 postseason, had expected to be used Thursday night. In fact, he had repeatedly asked for it.
A grounder from Kris Bryant and fly ball from Anthony Rizzo produced two outs. Scherzer was throwing 98 mph, pacing, sneering, the whole bit. Willson Contreras was in an 0-2 hole when he hit a 98-mph fastball up the middle for an infield single. It seemed benign at the time, as opposed to the first blow in another devastating chapter of District sports lore.
Ben Zobrist blooped a single to left. OK. Some tension. Addison Russell to the plate. A double down the third base line past a diving Anthony Rendon. That, by itself, would have seemed stunning for Scherzer, who allowed just one hit in 6 ⅓ innings during his Game 3 start against the Cubs. That Russell, a right-handed hitter, drove in two ran drastically against the odds. He faced Scherzer four days prior and struck out twice. Right-handed batters hit .136 against Scherzer in the regular season. Chicago manager Joe Maddon twice during the week called Scherzer “oppressive” against right-handers. Yet, there was Russell joyous on second after the Cubs took the lead.
What followed can only be described as an unraveling by Scherzer and catcher Matt Wieters. Jason Heyward was intentionally walked to bring free-swinging Javy Baez up. Scherzer struck him out with a diving pitch that went between Wieters’ legs and under his glove. Wieters’ throw to first went by both Ryan Zimmerman on the bag and Daniel Murphy, who was backing up. It stopped in right field, allowing another run to score on a strikeout. Chicago led, 6-4.
Pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella loaded the bases because of catcher’s interference after his swing clipped the top of Wieter’s mitt. Scherzer hit the next batter, Jon Jay, with a cut fastball, which turns in on left-handed hitters. The Cubs led, 7-4.
Bryant, up for the second time in the inning, grounded out. An unforeseen debacle had ended.
“I’m sure I’ve been in some crazy stuff before, but nothing like that,” Scherzer said.
“It was bizarro world, there’s no question about it,” Maddon said.
Wieters stood at his locker to explain his mistakes. He called the inning “one of my worst defensive nights of my career.” There was debate afterward if homeplate umpire Jerry Layne should have called a dead ball when Baez’s backswing hit Wieters before his wayward throw to first. But, no excuses came from Wieters.
“I think most of the mistakes were me,” Wieters said.
There was the ball in the lights, too, the one in the sixth inning that Werth saw off the bat of Russell then not again until it was behind him, boosting the Cubs‘ lead to 8-4. That had happened to him before Friday night, but not often, and not in a situation anywhere near this magnitude. Add that to the things kicking around in his head.
Washington pushed back, chopping Chicago’s lead to 8-5, then 8-6. The Cubs countered with a run on a fielder’s choice in the seventh to make it 9-6. Again, Washington rallied. Bryce Harper’s sacrifice fly cut the lead to 9-7 in the seventh. Chicago decided to lean on closer Wade Davis for an extraordinary amount of time. He entered the game with two outs in the seventh and was asked to make it to the finish.
Michael A. Taylor — who hit a three-run homer in the second inning — singled to make it 9-8 in the eighth. Catcher Jose Lobaton singled behind Taylor. Trea Turner came to the plate with two on, two out, the Cubs up one and Davis’ pitch count climbing. Cubs catcher Willson Contreras noticed Lobaton upright off first after Davis’ third pitch to Turner. He snapped a throw to first. Lobaton was initially called safe before a replay review. The cameras showed his leg bounce up with the tag on him. He was out. The rally ended. Werth, who was on-deck, dropped his helmet then lightly kicked it.
The top of the order awaited Davis in the ninth. Turner flew out to center. Werth, in what was likely his final at-bat in a Nationals uniform, struck out. Harper struck out to end it. For the second consecutive season, the opposition danced on the Nationals‘ diamond after winning a fifth game. In the last three playoff series, the Nationals are 0-8 in one-run games.
Werth sat on a red folding chair in front of his locker with Harper a seat over to his left. It was 1:42 a.m. There was a lot to go over from Thursday night and into Friday morning, from signing seven years ago to this moment on top of freshly installed carpet set for another party that never came.
“It’s really [expletive],” Werth said a few minutes prior. “I feel terrible.”
It was over. Again.
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