WASHINGTON The ball tore a hole in the cold October air and headed toward the Capitol dome.
Jayson Werth tossed his bat and pointed to the home dugout at Nationals Park. Red fireworks exploded behind the plate.
Werth's teammates charged out of their dugout, and the raucous fans exulted, all of them warmed by the knowledge the baseball season still lived in Washington.
They all got another day. They have another game. In the bottom of the ninth inning Thursday, Werth ended a 13-pitch at-bat with a walk-off home run to lift the Nationals to a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals to even the National League Division Series at two games each. Werth came to Washington two years ago vowing he could win in this city. Thursday night, he gave the Nationals a chance to keep playing.
"It's almost like I blacked out, for sure," Werth said inside the joyous Nationals clubhouse. "It's like a Will Ferrell moment."
The Nationals if their nerves can take it, if their hearts have not beat through their chests will gather this evening at Nationals Park for the decisive Game 5 of the NLDS.
The Cardinals have outscored the Nationals by 14 runs in four games, but that will be irrelevant at 5:37 p.m. PDT today. The Nationals will give their ace, Gio Gonzalez, the ball against Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright for a Game 1 rematch.
"I expect Gio to come out and pitch his game. We won this game. All bets are off (today)," Werth said.
Ross Detwiler, a 26-year-old left-hander who replaced Stephen Strasburg in the Nationals' postseason rotation, allowed one unearned run in six innings. Jordan Zimmermann, Monday's starter, followed with the most electric inning of relief since baseball returned to Washington. Tyler Clippard struck out three in the eighth. Drew Storen struck out two and got a game-saving assist from shortstop Ian Desmond.
The zeroes added up until Werth led off the ninth against Cardinals reliever Lance Lynn. Werth took the first two pitches, called strikes. He took one ball, a curve that barely missed low and away. He then fouled off eight pitches, looping them just over the home dugout. On the 13th pitch of the at-bat, Lynn made the mistake Werth had been waiting for.
Lynn grooved a 96-mph fastball over the plate's heart. Werth lashed it to left. Everyone knew the place erupted. Teammates thrust their hands in the air at the dugout railing.
Werth pointed to the right-field corner as he rounded first. He slapped an ankle-high five with third-base coach Bo Porter, then threw his red helmet 15 feet in the air, letting it hang there like a balloon.
So much had led to the moment. Storen struck out the first two batters he faced in the ninth, then walked Pete Kozma to put the potential go-ahead run on first. Storen worked his fourth straight full count to pinch hitter Matt Carpenter. With two strikes, Kozma bolted from first as Storen fired a fastball, his 26th pitch of the inning.
Carpenter flared it to shallow left. Desmond, the Nationals' best player all series, sprinted onto the grass. Kozma raced around second as Desmond re-routed himself, backpedaling and shuffling. Kozma had reached third as Desmond lunged if he did not make the catch, Kozma would score.
The Nationals needed their pitching. They did not push a runner into scoring position all game, relying on Adam LaRoche's home run in the second for their only offense in seven innings against Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse.
Pitching to keep the Nationals' season alive, Detwiler delivered one of the best starts of his career. Detwiler grew up in Wentzville, Mo., just outside of St. Louis, rooting for the Cardinals.
In his final start of the regular season, he allowed the Cardinals seven runs while recording seven outs.