There was no heat at Nationals Park on Friday night.
Game time temperature was 56 degrees, decreasing with the breeze and as the sun went down. It was colder than the press box at Verizon Center where the Caps were taking on the Rangers in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinals playoff series.
There was no heat in the stands, as maybe 15,000 loyal fans were at the park, dutifully cheering on the Nats against the Brewers and rewarded, with a 4-3, 10-inning win. By the end of the game, there were maybe several hundred customers looking for a Nats victory.
Perhaps the rest were busy watching hockey.
And, there was no heat on the mound as neither starting pitcher – Tom Gorzelanny for the Nats, Chris Narveson for the Brewers – came close to hitting 90 miles-per-hour on the radar gun on a consistent basis.
Finally, there was no heat from the batter’s box as for the third night in a row, Nats hitters were cold, despite producing three runs in the bottom of the second to spur the Washington offense without an RBI hit.
Fittingly, the winning-run would not come on a hit.
Jayson Werth came to the plate with one out in the bottom of the 10th looking to break out of his early-season slump and prove that he is the straw that stirs the Nationals’ drink with his big contract and great expectations.
Werth did not come through with a big hit, but he made all the difference.
The right fielder grounded into what looked to be a routine play to Brewers’ Yuniesky Betancourt but the oft-maligned shortstop threw the ball wide the first baseman Prince Fielder and it dribbled up the first base line. Werth took second with aggressive running and was in scoring position for Adam LaRoche.
Werth then stole third as Brewers’ pitcher Zach Braddock let him be to set up a situation where almost any contact would score the winning run.
Which was good for the Nats. It is not like they have been getting many hits recently.
With the infield crowding the grass (even with centerfielder Carlos Gomez playing on the dirt), LaRoche hit a ground ball to Fielder. The throw home was high and wide, Werth;s slide was low and the Nats put a curly-W on the board on a night they had no business doing so.
“One of the things that we talk about is his athleticism and the athleticism that has been added to the club and I think that is a great example right there,” manager Jim Riggleman said. “Real aggressive to take second base to begin with because the ball gets away. I have seen a lot of players hesitate to go and then not go. He’s at second. Then he aggressively steals third and then get’s a great jump on a ground ball with the infield in and scored the run.”
That is the quality that Werth brings to the Nationals. Time and again in this early season he has proven that one of his better qualities is as a base runner. It is refreshing as the Nats last year, outside of Nyjer Morgan and Ian Desmond, were not much of a running team and would often not take the second base if it could be available.
“We have probably done it this year practically as much as we did last year as far as trying to steal third,” Riggleman said. “I think from Spring Training on we have been trying to do that a little bit more.”
The Nats got on board in the second with three runs when Brewers starter Chris Narveson (5.2IP, 5H, 4BB, 3R, 3ER, 5K) walked two runs in with the bases loaded and got a sacrifice fly from Danny Espinosa to make it 3-0 and stake pitcher Tom Gorzelanny to a lead that it seemed would be all the Nationals would need.
“You know, we got a couple base-on-balls with the bases loaded, got the run late there without a hit,” Riggleman said. “When a club is throwing pretty good against you, you have to battle and scratch out a win some way and I am very proud of our guys. We know that we are not hitting on all cylinders yet but you got to scratch out some wins when you are not hitting on all cylinders.”
In the ninth, with the Nats up 3-2, Rickie Weeks hit a double to right-center that one-hopped the wall and a single by Carlos Gomez brought Weeks home. Burnett earned a blown save for the effort, his first of the season.
Gorzelanny was good. He threw 85 pitches through six innings, registering his first quality start of the year (6IP, 5H, 2R, 2ER, 2BB, 4K). Riggleman said that despite the pitch count, that was as far as Gorzelanny would go on Friday night. With a rested bullpen, Washington could go to its three-headed bullpen monster of Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Sean Burnett to close it out. Clippard and Storen did their parts and Burnett was a strike from getting it done but the Nats could not pull it out.
“That goes into the blown save category but Rickie Weeks, he is a bear to deal with,” Riggleman said. “He is a tough, hard-nosed ballplayer. He is a tough guy to finish off a game with.”