After a thrilling Game 4 win, the Washington Nationals try to secure their first trip to the National League Championship Series in 31 years when they play a decisive fifth game on Friday in the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park.
Washington stayed alive in dramatic fashion on Thursday, as Jayson Werth belted a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift the Nationals to a dramatic 2-1 victory.
"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."
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.
"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."
Adam LaRoche also homered for the Nationals, who mustered just three hits for the game but still managed to rebound from back-to-back losses by a combined 20-4 margin in Games 2 and 3.
The Nats' franchise, of course, is playing in its first postseason since they were known as the Montreal Expos, who reached the NLCS in 1981. Thursday's win, though, was the first for a Washington based team since the Senators claimed a 4-0 verdict over the New York Giants in Game 3 of the 1933 World Series.
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.
St. Louis could have an edge on Friday with former 20-game winner Adam Wainwright on the hill, as the defending world champions vie for their second straight NLCS berth. Wainwright, who missed all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, did not get a decision in Game 1 of this series on Sunday, but pitched well, allowing a run and six hits in 5 2/3 innings. He also became the first Cards pitcher to strike out 10 batters in a postseason game since Hall of Famer Bob Gibson in 1968.
"I thought he fought and had a little bit of trouble early on making his pitches with his fastball, seemed like he wasn't as fine as when he's having his best game," manager Mike Matheny said. "His breaking ball really bailed him out and kept them off balance. He made pitches when he had to and kept us in the game."
In 11 postseason appearances Wainwright has pitched to a 0.77 ERA.
"Sure, I wish we had won. But this is every pitcher's dream," Wainwright said after Thursday's loss. "It's every competitor's dream to go into huge moments like this. So I look forward to the challenge."
Washington, meanwhile, will rely on lefty Gio Gonzalez, who won a league-high 21 games this past season, but walked seven batters in his Game 1 assignment. Gonzalez did not get a decision in that one and only surrendered two runs and one hit in five innings.
"I don't think it was that much of a problem," Gonzalez said of his seven walks in Game 1. "It was my first postseason game, no excuses, but the way I see it is we were playing in someone else's house, pretty rowdy. It's pretty exciting. You catch yourself at the moment, take a step back and take a deep breath, and try to find it again."
Including San Francisco and Detroit's wins on Thursday, there have been 18 Division Series Game 5s and 11 have been won by the road team. Six of those 11 wins have come in the AL.
Of the last 13 opening-round series to go to a Game 5, the home team has won only two of those contests
St. Louis took two of three from the Nationals over the final weekend of the regular season, but Washington won the season series, 4-3. Three of Washington's wins, though, were at home.
The Cardinals are 13-5 all-time in elimination games.
Friday's winner will take on San Francisco in the NLCS beginning on Sunday.