David Murphy: History repeats itself for playoff-bound Werth

Posted: October 04, 2012

WASHINGTON - Funny thing, this life nowadays. You can tweet it or text it, post it or blog it, phone it in from wherever you are. Yet there are still some occasions when all you need is a nod.

On Monday night, the stadium was still buzzing when Jayson Werth dropped to a knee on the steps of the dugout and looked across the field. News of the Braves' loss in Pittsburgh had already filtered through the field of play, meaning the Nationals would be division champs regardless of what happened in the bottom of the ninth of their soon-to-be 2-0 loss to the Phillies. As Mike Morse dug into the batter's box with a grin on his face, Werth gazed in toward home plate, the events of the previous 2 years no doubt spinning through his mind. The struggles in 2011, the broken wrist in 2012, the pundits who said he'd traded wins for cash: Here he was, on a soggy October night, clinching a trip to the postseason with his former teammates looking on.

That's when it happened: Werth's eyes drifted beyond the action at home to the opposite dugout, where the man who helped revive his career stood in his usual spot by the steps. For a brief moment, their eyes met: one man headed back to the postseason, the other to an early October vacation. The rest of the stadium faded away. Werth nodded at his former manager. Charlie Manuel nodded back.

"I was basically just saying thank you," Werth said. "I look over, and I see him, and I was pretty excited about what was going on, but it also made me realize kind of how I got here. Charlie Manuel was definitely a big part of that."

Those who believe that life operates to the beat of some cosmic rhythm might find meaning in the fact that the Phillies were on hand to witness Werth and his Nationals teammates snap their streak of five straight division crowns. At times, 2012 has taken on the feel of a farewell tour, the glory days of 2008 and 2009 now relegated to the trophy case, many of its chief participants no longer on the roster. That might not be the reality of the situation, of course. Werth is quick to point out that injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley transformed the complexion of the NL East race.

"I'm not saying we're not on top," he said. "I'm just saying it's a different division."

But as you listen to Werth talk about this latest chapter of his life, you also are reminded of just how special the previous chapter was. Walking into the stadium on Tuesday afternoon, Werth crossed paths with Jimmy Rollins as the Phillies shortstop exited a cab. For a few moments, the former teammates talked about the past and the present.

"Even he said it: There's nothing like that first one, for anybody," Werth said.

Most of his Nationals teammates will look back on Monday night as that first time. The party raged late into the night, grown men running laps around the field and yelling at nobody in particular.

"It was everyone's first time," Werth said. "And the first time is the best time."

He is the veteran now, the guy whose portrait hangs above the leftfield seats, the big-ticket free agent whose arrival signaled a new era in Nationals baseball. But there are scars, both figurative and literal. His first year with the club, he hit only .232 with a .718 OPS, albeit with 20 home runs. This year was interrupted when he fractured the same wrist that nearly ended his career and led to his arrival in Philadelphia. He suffered the injury at Nationals Park against his former team. Later, he lashed out at what he said were the jeers of Phillies fans who had made the trip south.

The purple scars are not the only evidence of the surgery that repaired the fracture and got him back on the field. The power is not there as it was when he averaged 29 home runs from 2008 through 2010. At the moment, he is leading off.

Werth says the wrist is "OK." By spring training, he hopes it will be much better than that. He knows that he is fortunate just to be on the field. His is 33, with 5 years still remaining on the $126 million contract he signed after the 2010 season.

On Wednesday, the Phillies will face the Nationals in their 2012 finale. Afterward, Manuel and the Phillies will scatter to various corners of the country. Werth, meanwhile, will move on to the postseason. At some point, he'll try to make some sense of it all.

"It was a surreal moment, especially when I looked up and saw Charlie," Werth said. "I was hit with a thousand thoughts in a short period of time. It's probably one of those things where I will sit down this winter and wrap my head around it. It's something that hasn't hit me totally yet."

Contact David Murphy at dmurphy@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @HighCheese. For Phillies coverage and opinion, read his blog at philly.com/HighCheese.


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