The Dodgers traded for Jayson Werth one week before opening day in 2004. When he arrived at Dodger Stadium for the first time as a 24-year-old rookie, he decided he would make it his goal to one day hit a baseball out of this ballpark.
In Monday’s early evening, he nearly did. Now the Nationals’ 37-year-old left fielder, Werth stepped to the plate in the ninth inning of a one-run Game 3 in the National League division series and unloaded every bit of his possible power on a Kenley Jansen cutter. The baseball was clocked at 110 mph the moment it parted from Werth’s bat, and it traveled two-thirds of the way up the left-field bleachers, some 450 feet.
“If that ball doesn’t get out,” Werth said, “I don’t think I can do it.”
The magnitude of the home run shocked Jansen, who was soon removed from the game, as the Nationals opened a five-run lead and made the bottom half of the ninth a formality.
Werth was Game 3’s star. He earlier walked, doubled in a run, and, in the first inning, poked a baseball into right field that helped the Nationals load the bases against Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda and force up his pitch count.
“I think it all started with that end-of-the-bat single,” Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. “He was huge for them.”
Nationals Bryce Harper beats the tag of Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal on a double by Ryan Zimmerman in the 9th inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Nationals Jayson Werth, right, celebrates with Daniel Murphy after his solo home run in the 9th inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Nationals left fielder Jayson Werth celebrates after rounding the bases on a ninth-inning homer against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulls relief pitcher Kenley Jansen from the game after surrendering three runs in the ninth inning.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton celebrates as Dodgers Corey Seager strikes out in the 8th inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers right fielder Josh Reddick leaps but can’t make the catch on a two-run double by Nationals Ryan Zimmerman in the 9th inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers right fielder Josh Reddick leaps but can’t make the catch on a two-run double by Nationals Ryan Zimmerman in the ninth inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager drops the ball on a single by Nationals Ryan Zimmerman in the 7th inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager can’t field a ball hit by Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman that was deflected by pitcher Joe Blanton for a seventh inning hit.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers reliever Luis Avilan celebrates after striking out Nationals seond baseman Daniel Murphy to end a 6th inning threat.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers pinch hitter Carlos Ruiz is greeted at home plate by teammate Joc Pederson after hitting a two-run homer in the fifth inning.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers pinch-hitter Carlos Ruiz rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run against the Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodger 2nd baseman Charlie Culberson can’t handle the throw as Bryce Harper steals second base and advances on catcher Yasmani Grandal’s throwing error in the 3rd inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodger pitcher Kenta Maeda looks down after giving up two of his four runs against the Nationals in the 3rd inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Kenta Maeda tries to gather himself during a difficult third inning.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal is late with the tag on Nationals centerfirelder Trea Turner who scored on a Jayson Werth triple in the third inning.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda hangs his head as Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon circles the bases on a third inning two-run homerun.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers Justin Turner celebrates after scoring a run against the Nationals in the 1st inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers base runner Justin Turner slides home safely to beat the tag from Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton in the 1st inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Werth was widely deemed done after his career-worst 2015 campaign, in which he was out nearly half the season because of a wrist injury and hit .221 with a .685 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. With two years and $42 million remaining on his contract, he was left to defend to the local media his status as an everyday player.
He started 139 games this season. While his statistics did not recoil back to his previous highs, he batted .244 with an above-average .752 OPS, and he hit second for much of it.
“Very rarely does anyone have a career where you don’t have any tough years,” said Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman, himself experiencing the worst season of his professional career in 2016. “Baseball’s a funny game, and it’s a hard game. With Jayson, the work ethic’s always there. He’s done a lot of things in this game and played a ton of playoff games. I think he’s a big part of the experience we have now. He keeps everyone calm.”
Monday’s homer was the 15th of Werth’s postseason career. He has batted 240 times in the playoffs for three teams, and he is aware his remaining plate appearances are numbered. He said he wants to be constantly conscious of that this month.
“After last year, with the injuries and the way it ended, I felt like it was just an opportunity lost,” Werth said. “I feel like it got taken away last year, and obviously I can’t play this game forever. I feel like, maybe, this is my last chance to do it.”
So he will never hit a baseball out of here. But, six months into his three-season tenure with the Dodgers, Werth learned an applicable lesson about odds. He recalled it all Monday, how it was the season’s penultimate game with the NL West on the line, how the Dodgers did not have a starter for Sunday’s season finale, how the Giants had ace Jason Schmidt set to go.
After the Dodgers trailed by three runs as the bottom of the ninth inning began, Werth stepped up with the team trailing by one, the bases loaded and one out. He carried the count to two strikes and 12 pitches and then lined a tying single to right field. Two pitches later, Steve Finley launched one of the most famous homers in the history of this stadium, a division-clinching grand slam.
“Over the course of my career, I’ve always gone back to that game,” Werth said. “Because it was just the most unlikely circumstances of winning. That’s probably the one thing about this place that will always be pretty vivid.”