On Thursday, Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth helped keep his club's season alive by doing something that had never been done in the Wild Card era -- force a decisive Division Series Game 5 with a walk-off home run.
The situation, though, has come up one other time in the strike-altered 1981 season. In that postseason, the Phillies' George Vukovich forced a do-or-die Game 5 with his walk-off shot to save the Phils from elimination against -- of all teams -- the Montreal Expos.
On Friday, Werth and the Nats are hoping to write a much better ending than the one suffered by those Phillies. Playing under the same postseason format (two road games followed by three straight at home), the '81 Phillies came out one night after the dramatic walk-off, 10-inning victory and fell flat in a 3-0 elimination loss.
As it turns out, more times than not, those season-saving, walk-off homers prove to be only temporary.
Back against the wall
Walk-off homers facing elimination from postseason
The only other team to fight off LDS elimination with a walk-off long ball was the 2003 Red Sox. Trot Nixon crushed a Game 3 homer to avoid a sweep en route to the Red Sox rallying to defeat the A's in five games. Boston was eliminated one round later in a heartbreaking ALCS Game 7 loss to the Yankees.
Overall, of the seven teams to hit a walk-off home run in the LDS or LCS while facing elimination, only the 2004 Red Sox went on to win the World Series. In that year's ALCS, David Ortiz helped the Sox avoid a sweep at the hands of the rival Yankees with a walk-off homer in the 12th inning of Game 4. The following night, Ortiz again lifted the Red Sox, this time with a 14th-inning walk-off single.
Boston completed its historic comeback from a 3-0 deficit to win the series in seven games en route to snapping its 84-year World Series drought.
Whether or not Werth pulls off Ortiz-esque back-to-back walk-off hits, there is one thing working in the Nats' favor entering Friday. Six of those seven teams did win the series in which the walk-off came -- even if it didn't lead to a title.
"It's what you play all season for," Werth said, "and what you work out all winter for and what you get to Spring Training early for. We have a chance [Friday night] to take the next step.
"I know my teammates will be ready -- and the city will, too."
The numbers slant even more against Werth and his teammates when opened up to all elimination-avoiding, walk-off victories.
Seventeen teams -- including this year's Athletics -- have kept their seasons alive via a walk-off hit while staring down elimination in the LDS or LCS. Of the 17, only nine even made the World Series and just two, including those '04 Red Sox, went on to win it all. The 2001 D-backs, lifted by a Tony Womack walk-off single against the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLCS, were the other.
The more frequent outcome is similar to that of the 2012 A's. Oakland rallied from a two-run, ninth-inning deficit to beat the Tigers on a Coco Crisp walk-off single in Game 4. The A's couldn't complete the series comeback in Game 5, getting shut out by Justin Verlander in a season-ending 6-0 loss Thursday.
Prior to the A's, six other teams had won via walk-off to force at least one more LDS game, but only two eventually made it to the World Series.
Whether a season-saving walk-off is simply too emotionally taxing or these numbers are strictly a coincidence, the Nationals plan to approach Friday's do-or-die contest the same as any other game this season.
"The score is 0-0. We have a tough game," Werth said. "This is baseball, man. That's why you play."
Thanks to Werth, the Nats will play at least one more day -- the question is whether they can buck the trend and ride out the momentum all the way through October.