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Werth plays hero in Nationals' biggest victory

Outfielder extends Washington's season with walk-off blast in Game 4

WASHINGTON -- Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard sat together in the fading light of Thursday's National League Division Series Game 4, watching Cardinals reliever Lance Lynn pitch to Jayson Werth in a tie game in the ninth. As they battled, Storen began recalling his own pitch sequence to Werth more than two years ago, when the then-Phillies outfielder beat him with his last walk-off home run.

Storen took particular note when, on the ninth pitch of the at-bat, following five consecutive fastballs, Lynn tried something offspeed. Werth fouled it away.

"That's exactly what I did, and he spoiled it," Storen said to Clippard. "He's going to come back with a fastball and [Werth] is going to get him."

Four pitches later, Lynn came back with a fastball.

Werth got him.

It crackled through the night sky, a line drive that never seemed to decelerate on its arc toward the left-field seats. It transformed Nationals Park into a giant party, gave the Nats a 2-1 victory and forced a decisive Game 5 -- vindicating to many, in a single moment, the contract that Werth signed not so long ago. It was no ordinary walk-off home run; in October baseball's return to the District, it made Werth a rock star.

Werth joins walk-off heroes
Walk-off homers in National League Division Series history
Date Batter Pitcher Final
10/11/2012 Jayson Werth Lance Lynn Was., 2-1
10/9/2005 Chris Burke Joey Devine Hou., 7-6
10/7/2004 Rafael Furcal Dan Miceli Atl., 4-2
10/7/2000 Benny Agbayani Aaron Fultz NYM, 3-2
10/9/1999 Todd Pratt Matt Mantei NYM, 4-3
10/10/1981 George Vukovich Jeff Reardon Phi., 6-5
10/6/1981 Alan Ashby Dave Stewart Hou., 3-1

"But he hit the one off me way farther," Storen said.

Leave that for the historians to decide; this one was for the sentimentalists. Since moving to Washington, the Nationals had never seen a moment quite like this, charged with so much energy and drama and importance. Werth may personally hold a stock of warm playoff memories from his days with the Dodgers and Phillies, but even he admitted that "this one's pretty fresh."

"This," Werth said, "given the situation, you know, is definitely pretty big."

Some of his teammates viewed it almost as a catharsis. So much was made of Werth's struggles last season, his first after inking a seven-year, $126 million contract to become the poster child of Washington's baseball renaissance.

At the time, many around the game openly questioned the deal. Speaking publicly at the Winter Meetings later that day, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson cracked that he "thought they were trying to reduce the deficit in D.C."

Werth's struggles in 2011 only fueled the criticism, and his broken left wrist early this summer prevented him from rebounding. Appearing in only 81 regular-season games, Werth returned to hit well over .300 the rest of the way, but his power evaporated. Once a perennial 30-homer threat with the Phillies, Werth mustered just two long balls in August and September.

Werth's days as an elite power hitter may be over, and in terms of sheer production versus dollars and cents, he may never fully make good on his contract when viewed through that lens. But these days, the Nationals measure things in title runs alone. And on a night when the Nats and Cards combined for six total hits, it was Werth who made all the difference in keeping Washington's World Series hopes alive.

"To come over here with the pressure of that big contract and all that, and not perform like he wanted to, he'd be the first person to tell you that he was more disappointed in himself than anyone was disappointed in him," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "I'm just happy for him that he finally had a moment like this, where the fans can see how hard he works, how hard he grinds it out and how good a player he actually is."

Considering their series-long offensive struggles continued in Game 4, the Nationals will need Werth to continue producing if they plan to make a deep run into October. So perhaps similar moments still await him. Perhaps more vindication is to come.

Perhaps, for the first time, Washington will truly embrace its shaggy right fielder.

"The guys in this clubhouse can't tell you how much he means to this team," Zimmerman said. "Obviously, the fans can't see that all the time, so they don't really value him as much as we do. But they should now."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo.
Read More: Washington Nationals, Jayson Werth