Jayson Werth kept the Washington Nationals' storybook season alive in dramatic fashion, belting a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth inning that gave the National League East champions a thrilling 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of their NL Division Series from Nationals Park.
Werth came out as the victor in a tense 13-pitch at-bat with Lance Lynn (1-1), hammering a fastball from the Cardinals' 18-game winner into the visiting bullpen to set up a deciding Game 5 to take place Friday in Washington. The winner will take on San Francisco in the NLCS beginning on Sunday.
"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," said Werth of the winner-take-all showdown. "We have a chance tomorrow to take that next step. I know my teammates will be ready and the city will, too."
Adam LaRoche also homered for the Nationals, who mustered just three hits for the game but still managed to bounce back from back-to-back losses by a combined 20-4 margin in Games 2 and 3.
Ross Detwiler, taking a rotation spot created by Washington's decision to shut down ace Stephen Strasburg, held the Cardinals to one unearned run on three hits over the first six innings, with Drew Storen (1-0) claiming the win with a scoreless top of the ninth in which he struck out two.
Kyle Lohse surrendered only one run and two hits while striking out five over a sharp seven-inning stint for St. Louis.
Allen Craig had two of the Cardinals' three hits in Thursday's pitchers duel, with Carlos Beltran knocking in the team's lone run with a sacrifice fly.
Lynn fanned five in a three-inning relief appearance to record the win in St. Louis' 12-4 decision in Monday's Game 2, but couldn't put away the only batter he would face after entering the bottom of the ninth in a 2-2 deadlock.
Werth battled back from an 0-2 count by fouling off several mid-90's fastballs, then drove Lynn's offering left over the heart of the plate well clear of the fence in left-center field to enable the Nats to stave off elimination.
"That's the way that game should have ended. Jayson Werth hitting a home run," said Nationals skipper Davey Johnson. "What was it, a 13, 14-pitch at-bat, something like that? It was unbelievable. Great effort on his part."
Washington failed to recover from an early four-run deficit in Wednesday's 8-0 loss to St. Louis, but got off to a significantly better start in this game.
Detwiler retired six of the first seven hitters through the first two innings and was staked to a 1-0 lead when LaRoche ended a nine-pitch sequence with Lohse by launching a fastball off the batter's eye in center to begin Washington's half of the second.
The blast halted a 12-inning scoreless drought for the Nationals.
The Cardinals answered quickly, however. Pete Kozma drew a leadoff walk to open the third, went to second on Lohse's sacrifice bunt, then advanced another base when Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond mishandled Jon Jay's grounder for an error. Beltran followed with a fly ball to center to bring home Kozma with the tying run.
Both starters would yield little afterward, though. Lohse allowed a mere one hit and one walk over his final five innings of work and set down 10 of the last 11 batters he faced, while Detwiler permitted just one Cardinal to reach second base over his last three frames.
"I've watched Kyle Lohse do that all season long," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. "He's been a big-game pitcher and he's been a great leader with a few other guys on our team as far as our staff goes. We knew he was going to give us a chance. That's all we can ask, and he did that today."
That mild threat came in the sixth, when Craig singled with one out and moved up a base on Yadier Molina's grounder. Following an intentional walk to David Freese, Detwiler was able to retire Daniel Descalso and end the inning.
St. Louis found even less success against the Washington bullpen, with Jordan Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard and Storen combining for eight consecutive outs on strikeouts from the seventh through ninth innings and the Cardinals generating only two baserunners -- both on walks -- over that span.
"They rose to the occasion," said Johnson of his relievers. "All of them were throwing harder than I've seen them throw. "They say I'm supposed to give a big speech before the game to get them all pumped up. No. These guys are pumped up. They don't need no motivation."
Friday's finale will reprise the pitching matchup from Game 1, with Gio Gonzalez slated to toe the rubber for Washington against Cardinals right- hander Adam Wainwright. Neither factored in the decision of Sunday's opener, which the Nationals won by a 3-2 count in St. Louis after rallying for two runs in the top of the eighth inning.
The victory was the first at home in the postseason for a franchise based in Washington since the Senators claimed a 4-0 verdict over the New York Giants in Game 3 of the 1933 World Series ... Prior to Thursday's result, the Cardinals had never lost in four previous Game 4 bouts in NLDS play ... Washington improved to 12-3 in Detwiler's 15 home starts this season ... Detwiler, a native of the St. Louis suburb of Wentzville, MO and a graduate of Missouri State, recorded 11 of his 18 outs on ground balls.