Nats live to see another day

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Nats live to see another day

Updated at 10:10 p.m.

At some point, as the at-bat dragged on and on and as he fouled off pitch after pitch after pitch, Jayson Werth lost track and had to sneak a glance at the Nationals Park scoreboard to see just how many times Lance Lynn had wound up and delivered the ball to him in the bottom of the ninth.

The scoreboard read 12 total pitches for Lynn.

"I was like, is that right?" Werth said. "I had to really study the board to make sure that was correct. But I guess it didn't last much longer."

No, it certainly didn't. Seconds later, Lynn delivered his 13th pitch of the pivotal at-bat in Game 4 of the National League Division Series. Like nine of the previous 12, it was a fastball, this one registering 96 mph.

Unlike any of the others, it crossed the plate belt-high, right down the heart of the strike zone. And unlike any of the others, it wasn't fouled off into the stands. Nor, however, did it land anywhere in the field of play.

No, this pitch landed in the back left corner of the left-field bullpen, not to mention the annals of Washington sports lore.

With one mighty swing of his bat, Werth saved the Nationals' season, cemented his place in Nationals history and sent a throng of 44,392 into sheer pandemonium. After launching the home run that gave his team a 2-1 victory in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, Werth will never again have to justify his decision to sign a $126 million contract with a club that had never won anything before.

"This is what you play all season for," the 32-year-old right fielder said. "This is why you work out all winter. This is why you start playing T-ball when you're four. This is baseball, man. This is why you play."

And play again the Nationals will. They'll be right back on South Capitol Street at 8:37 p.m. Friday for a winner-take-all Game 5 of what has become a remarkable series between one young ballclub that posted the sport's best regular-season record and a veteran-laden squad trying to retain its World Series crown.

And they'll do it in front of another sellout crowd that experienced more dizzying highs and terrifying lows over 2 hours and 55 minutes Thursday -- not to mention over the last five days -- than three generations of Washington baseball fans ever hoped to realize.

"It was nervous. Exciting. All of the emotions that you can think of," reliever Tyler Clippard said. "It was one of those special games that I feel privileged to have been a part of."

The euphoria that capped the night was in stark contrast to the nervous anticipation that filled the park when this elimination game began. Fans desperately needed something positive to cheer, whether from the pitching staff or (preferably) from a lineup that hadn't yet scored in its home ballpark in the postseason.

Ross Detwiler set the tone by retiring six of the first seven batters he faced, cruising through his first two innings. Adam LaRoche then supplied the big blast everyone wanted.

The crowd let out a roar when LaRoche tagged Kyle Lohse's 3-2 fastball down the right-field line to open the bottom of the second, only to sigh as it hooked foul. No worries, because seconds later he tagged another 3-2 fastball, this time leaving no doubt where it would land.

The ball cleared the fence in straightaway center field, a solo homer that gave the Nationals a 1-0 lead and at long last gave the sellout crowd reason to dial up the decibel meter.

"It was good to get on the board and get the lead," manager Davey Johnson said.

The Nationals did, however, give the run right back in the top of the third, not so much because of Detwiler but some shaky defense. The left-hander walked No. 8 hitter/pest Pete Kozma to start the inning -- an obvious no-no -- but he would have gotten out of the inning had Ian Desmond not booted a chopper to short. That left runners on the corners and allowed Kozma to score on Carlos Beltran's sacrifice fly to center (with Bryce Harper making an ill-advised, airmail throw to the plate.

The game now 1-1, both pitchers settled in. For Lohse -- a veteran who went 16-3 this season -- this wasn't as big a deal, but for Detwiler -- who just completed his first full big-league season -- this was significant.

Start with the fact Detwiler had been hammered by the same Cardinals lineup 11 days ago at Busch Stadium. Throw in the dire situation for the Nationals. And then don't forget the small fact he likely made the postseason rotation only because of Stephen Strasburg's early-September shutdown.

With all that hovering over his head, Detwiler went out and did exactly what the Nationals needed. He pitched around that unearned run in the third and kept the Cardinals from scoring again before he departed following the sixth, showing few, if any, nerves along the way.

"You know, my nerves were worse in the ninth inning, before J-Dub's at-bat," he said. "It wasn't too bad. I tried to look at it as another game. I felt like I really had something to prove, especially after the last start against them."

With the game still knotted at 1 and with his middle relief corps having struggled in the series, Johnson turned to a surprising arm for the seventh inning: Jordan Zimmermann. The right-hander threw 63 pitches in Game 2 on Monday, but would have thrown his regular between-starts bullpen session today, so Johnson let him know he'd be available for this all-important game.

That proved quite an adept move by the 69-year-old skipper, because Zimmermann flat-out dominated the top of the seventh. He struck out Kozma on a 97-mph fastball, dialing his velocity up several notches from where it usually sits. He struck out Lohse on a 91-mph slider, way up from his usual velocity. Then he dialed it up to 97 again to get Jon Jay looking, eliciting the biggest roar of the crowd all day (up to that juncture).

"I knew I was only going to be out there for one inning, but I wasn't trying to throw it harder," Zimmermann said. "Adrenaline just took over."

Clippard picked up right where Zimmermann left off, striking out three more batters in the top of the eighth and pumping his fist as he hopped off the mound. Drew Storen then completed the bullpen's incredible trifecta, striking out three batters of his own in the top of the ninth to give the Nationals' relief corps nine strikeouts in three brilliant innings of work.

"It was electric," Johnson said. "They rose to the occasion."

The game, of course, was still undecided. A hero still needed to step to the forefront and etch his place into this game, this series and this town's sporting history.

That hero proved to be the highest-paid player on the roster, who in his biggest moment to date with this franchise was worth every cent the Nationals paid him and ensured this magical baseball season will extend for at least one more day.

"Before the game, [reliever] Michael Gonzalez asked me how I felt," Werth said. "I said: 'I feel like I want to play tomorrow.' And we get that chance."

VIDEO: Carlin walks off over 'contract year' argument with Brian Mitchell

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VIDEO: Carlin walks off over 'contract year' argument with Brian Mitchell

Watch the full exchange from SportsTalk Live in the video player above, which will begin momentarily.

Stephen Strasburg is off to a strong start with the Washington Nationals as he sets the foundation for how much his next contract will be worth. 

That became a point of contention Wednesday night on SportsTalk Live when co-host Rob Carlin brought up the idea that, if Strasburg indeed finishes strong, the Nationals will need to discern whether this is the start of a sustainable uptick in production or the product of a contract year. 

Brian Mitchell took exception to that entire notion, saying that it is illogical to think that players play better simply because they are in a contract year. 

The argument evolved from there until Carlin couldn't take it anymore -- and walked off the set. Watch the exchange above.

Revere expected to return to Nationals for series vs. Cubs

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Revere expected to return to Nationals for series vs. Cubs

By DAVE SKRETTA

TRAINER'S ROOM:

OF Ben Revere (right oblique strain) will join the Nationals in Chicago on Thursday and be evaluated before being activated. He played nine innings in centerfield for Triple-A Syracuse in his fifth rehab game on Tuesday.

Nationals blow out Royals to continue strong road trip

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Nationals blow out Royals to continue strong road trip

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 13-2 win over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium: 

How it happened: After letting Tuesday night’s game slip out of their hands, the Nationals wasted no time on Wednesday afterrnoon making sure the series finale at Kansas City was theirs right from the jump. The Nats exploded in the first inning with six runs off Royals starter Kris Medlen and never looked back, cruising to a 13-2 blowout victory to move to 19-8 on the season to match the 1979 Expos for the best start in franchise history. They also matched the best 27-game record for a D.C.-based team, tying the 1925 and 1932 Senators.

Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper homered, Ryan Zimmerman had three hits and Daniel Murphy had four to tie a career-high. Stephen Strasburg went six innings with just two runs allowed on five hits and a walk. He moved to 5-0 on the season and now holds a 2.36 ERA through six starts. 

What it means: The Nationals recovered well from their disappointing loss on Tuesday night just in time for a huge series at the Cubs. The Nats now hold some positive momentum as they prepare to face the team with the best record in baseball. The Cubs and Nats will battle in what is about as exciting a series you can find this early in the season. And whatever happensin those four games, the Nats will finish this supposedly scary road trip with at least a .500 record after winning on Wednesday.

Another huge first inning: The Nationals once again got off to a blazing start in the first inning, this time putting up six runs off Medlen. Amazingly, five of those runs came across before Medlen even recorded an out. Harper and Jayson Werth had RBI singles, Zimmerman and Murphy had RBI doubles and Clint Robinson added a sacrifice fly in the frame. The Nationals have scored 32.5 percent (39 of 120) of their total runs this season in the first inning.

Harper has big day: Harper had been in a major slump lately with multiple strikeouts in three consecutive games and just one hit in his previous five outings. On Wednesday, Harper had two hits including his 10th homer of the season, a solo shot to right field in the fifth inning. It was Harper’s first multi-hit game since April 23.

Zim continues to heat up: For the third straight day, Zimmerman posted a multi-hit game. On Wednesday, it was a season-best three hits including his first inning RBI double. Zimmerman is now batting .264 on the season and is 7-of-14 in the month of May. 

Murphy’s career day: Murphy homered for the second straight day, but that was just a small part of what was overall one of the best games of his entire MLB career. He matched a career-high with four hits, had three RBI and scored a career-best four runs. Murphy now has hits in 23 of his 26 games this season with multiple hits in 13 of those outings. He was a triple short of a cycle in the win.

Up next: The Nats move on to Chicago to begin a four-game series at the Cubs. The opener is an 8:05 p.m. ET first pitch at Wrigley with Joe Ross (3-0, 0.79) and Kyle Hendricks (1-2, 3.52) set to start.