SportsPulse: From Nationals Park, Trysta Krick and Steve Gardner break down the Cubs’ dramatic win, the Nationals’ continued heartbreak and how the league championship series shape up.
USA TODAY Sports
WASHINGTON — In the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse following yet another painful exit in the first round of the playoffs, outfielder Jayson Werth struggled to find the right words.
“It’s crazy to think we didn’t win that game,” Werth said of a season-ending 9-8 loss Thrusday night to the Chicago Cubs.
“This one’s tough. I love these guys. I love this team. To think that it’s over now, it’s tough to swallow.”
He was talking about being eliminated from the National League Division Series, but could just as easily have been thinking about his career as a Washington National.
The emotion rising to the surface carried even more meaning for Werth — perhaps the first building block of a Nationals franchise that went from laughingstock to perennial contender.
“He’s the obvious leader of this ballclub and we rallied behind him,” second baseman Daniel Murphy said.
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Seven years ago, Werth made a radical decision as a free-agent to sign with the lowly Nationals — a team that had finished in last place five of the six seasons it had been in existence.
Werth’s seven-year, $126 million deal was widely seen as extravagant for a 31-year-old who’d just become a major league regular two seasons earlier.
Once Werth came aboard, the Nationals began to come of age — finishing a game under .500 in his first year and winning the first of four division titles the next.
“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished here. This place has come a long way in seven years,” he said.
Now that contract many criticized has come to an end with Werth, 38, almost as valuable to the club in his final year as he was in his first.
“Not sure if he’s going to come back next year or not, but it’s been a pleasure playing with him,” said outfielder Bryce Harper. “One of the guys I’ve grown up with the past six-seven years. He’s always been there for me no matter what and I’m going to miss seeing him around here.”
Unfortunately, things didn’t go perfectly for Werth in what’s likely be his final game in a Nationals uniform. He misplayed a ball in the sixth inning that allowed a run to score as the Cubs padded their lead.
“I can probably count on one hand how many balls I’ve had go in the lights on me in seven years,” he said. “For that to happen tonight … it feels like if it could go wrong it did. But we were right there.
“This one’s gonna stick with me for a while.”
He’ll also be reminded that for all the Nationals’ regular-season success, they still have never won a playoff series.
“Jayson has done a lot for this organization and this city,” said first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, the longest-tenured National. “You’d love to see things happen perfectly at the end, but unfortunately that’s not the way it always happens. I don’t think that should take anything away from what he’s done.”
If this is indeed the end of the line for Werth, he’ll have left quite a legacy in Washington. He’s among the franchise’s top 10 (including its previous iteration as the Montreal Expos) in runs scored. He’s also hit 109 homers and driven in 393 runs in seven seasons with the Nats.
Plus he has one of the most memorable home runs in franchise history – a walk-off homer in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS that pushed Washington to the brink of that elusive playoff series win.
“Maybe as time goes on I’ll look back and think about all the accomplishments we’ve had,” Werth said, his voice cracking ever so slightly.
“I gave everything I had and left it all out there. I’m proud to call myself a National.
“Before I came here, I don’t know if anybody would have said that.”
Follow Steve Gardner on Twitter @SteveAGardner.
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