Harper, Werth homers power Nats' comeback

Harper, Werth homers power Nats' comeback
April 10, 2014, 1:00 am
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It took 62 tries, not until a June 9 doubleheader against the Twins, before the 2013 Nationals came from three runs down to win a ballgame.

Only eight games into the 2014 season, the Nationals have already done it twice. And after Wednesday's dramatic, back-and-forth, plucked-out-of-thin-air, 10-7 victory over the Marlins, it was perhaps fair to wonder whether this year's club is already establishing itself as one capable of doing this sort of thing on a regular basis.

"You hope so," said Jayson Werth, whose eighth-inning grand slam off Carlos Marmol proved the difference. "I never felt out of this game, that's for sure."

It took just about everything the Nationals had in them to storm back to win a ballgame in which starter Jordan Zimmermann was yanked after a career-worst 1 2/3 innings, having placed his teammates in a 5-0 hole. Even when they rallied to take a 6-5 lead in the sixth thanks to Bryce Harper's monstrous homer into the third deck down the right-field line and some fortuitous bounces later on, the Nationals ultimately needed Werth's blast after relievers Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard let the Marlins recapture the lead.

The grand slam into the visitors' bullpen came after Miami manager Mike Redmond elected to intentionally walk the .419-hitting Anthony Rendon, loading the bases for Werth in hopes of inducing a double play. Werth might have taken some offense to that strategy.

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"Knowing Jayson, if a pitcher looks at him wrong, he'll take that personally," said Craig Stammen, the unsung hero of the game after tossing 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. "Them blatantly walking to get to him, you typically don’t walk to get to your 3-hole hitter, especially a veteran guy that's proven he can get big hits. But they chose to, and it worked out in our favor this time."

Werth was more diplomatic when asked about the Marlins' strategy, but his on-field reaction upon making contact — he flipped his bat a good 30 feet toward the home dugout — said it all.

"When you're put in that situation and the game's on the line, you want to come through for your teammates," the veteran right fielder said. "I was happy to do that."

Werth's fourth career grand slam, his first with the Nationals, stole the show and elicited a curtain call from those who remained from a crowd of 21,190. But so much was necessary to even get him into that position at night's end.

Start with Stammen's gutsy effort out of the bullpen, taking over for a stunningly ineffective Zimmermann and bridging the gap to the rest of the Nationals' bullpen with his typical workmanlike style.

"Really surprising," Stammen said of Zimmermann's abbreviated start. "He's like the one guy you can always count on for six or seven innings. We got to back him up just like we back up all the starters."

The biggest turn of events might well have been Harper's gargantuan homer off Miami left-hander Brad Hand, one that capped a fantastic, 10-pitch at-bat in which the slumping young star fouled off five consecutive offerings at one point.

Was this the big blast that finally gets Harper going after a 4-for-26 skid to open the season?

"I'm just happy it went over the wall and we got three runs out of it," he said.

Whether Harper's homer spurs him to greater things or not, it did re-energize the Nationals' dugout.

"I think once he hit that home run, we felt like we were probably going to win the game," Stammen said.

That's the kind of attitude that seems to be permeating the roster these days. It's early, barely more than a week into the season. But there is a confidence to these Nationals, the kind that helps turn an early 5-run deficit into yet another come-from-behind victory.

"If you look at the way we played down the stretch last year, in the second half, and the way we've played so far this year, that can become an identity, for sure," Werth said. "We've just got to keep going, keep pressing, take opportunities when they're given to us."