THE NEW YORK TIMES
WASHINGTON — The atmosphere inside Nationals Park on Thursday never seemed like it would match the relentless vivacity of the previous night, when the city hosted its first post season baseball game since 1933. The crowd of 44,392 stood often and cheered in full voice, but also seemed muted at times by anxiety, particularly as the game wore on.
That anxiety turned to ecstasy in the bottom of the ninth, when Jayson Werth rocketed a walk-off home run over the left field fence to give the Washington Nationals a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in this National League Division Series and extend October baseball in the capital by at least one more game.
The final game of the series will be played Friday night. The winner will meet the San Francisco Giants, who beat the Cincinnati Reds earlier in the day, in the National League Championship series starting Sunday.
The taut, nerve-wracking game was blown wide open in the ninth, well after the reddish haze of dusk had come and gone from the sky. With the score tied, 1-1, Werth came to the plate to lead off the bottom of the inning. He battled Lance Lynn on and on, at one point fouling off six consecutive pitches. Then, on the 13th pitch of the at-bat, Werth took a 96-mile-an-hour fastball that sat directly over the middle of the plate and smashed it. There was no doubt about where the ball was landing, and the crowd exploded.
Werth circled the bases with fury, and threw his helmet high into the air as he charged down the third base line. Then he leapt up to stomp with both feet onto home plate, where he was engulfed by a crowd of teammates.
It was very likely the loudest moment inside the 5-year-old park, and it provided a stirring exclamation point on a tense game.
Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse entered the game on a high after earning the win against the Atlanta Braves last Friday in the National League Wild Card game. That victory provided an appropriate coda to his strong regular season, in which he was 16-3 with a 2.86 earned run average.
Lohse was dominant Thursday as well, zooming through the Nationals’ order with remarkable efficiency. He needed just 87 pitches in seven innings of work. He gave up just one run and two hits and struck out five. Lohse did not walk a batter until there was one out in the seventh. That drew Manager Mike Matheny to the mound. Lohse remained in the game, and seconds later he was pumping his fist after getting Michael Morse to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Lohse’s only error came in the second inning, when he served a low sinker over the middle of the plate to Adam LaRoche, who crushed it onto the grass-covered berm beyond the center field wall for a solo home run that gave the Nationals a 1-0 lead.
Ross Detwiler, a 26-year-old native of St. Louis, started for the Nationals, occupying the rotation spot vacated by Stephen Strasburg, who was shut down on Sept. 8 as part of a plan to protect his surgically repaired elbow. Detwiler was 10-8 this year with a 3.40 E.R.A. while splitting time as a starter and a reliever.
It was his first postseason start, and Detwiler rose to the occasion, going six innings, giving up just three hits and three walks (one intentional), while striking out two. The Cardinals had looked imposing while posting consecutive wins in Games 2 and 3, outscoring the Nationals by a combined score of 20-4 during those wins, but he made them appear rather ordinary Thursday.
The only run he allowed came unearned in the third, when some sloppy defense helped the Cardinals tie the game. Ian Desmond was unable to scoop up Jon Jay’s slow grounder to shortstop, and the error meant Pete Kozma could get to third with only one out. Carlos Beltran then took advantage, lifting a sacrifice fly to center field to make it 1-1.
The Nationals bullpen picked up where Detwiler left off, exhibiting a bit more firepower to produce a stream of strikeouts.
Manager Davey Johnson first turned to Jordan Zimmermann, who lasted just three innings during his Game 2 start on Monday. Zimmermann had never pitched out of the bullpen, but Johnson took a chance, considering it was his normal throwing day, and he was electric, striking out the side in the seventh. Tyler Clippard then struck out three more Cardinals in the eighth. Drew Storen struck out the first two batters he faced in the ninth, before getting an inning-ending popup, which was wrangled athletically by Desmond near the left field line.
Their efforts were rewarded spectacularly in the bottom of the ninth.