Washington Nationals' Jayson Werth, right, reacts as he rounds the bases after hitting the game-winning solo home run in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the National League division baseball series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, in Washington. Washington won 2-1. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals signed Jayson Werth to show them how to win. His game-ending homer Thursday night extended their surprising season.
Werth led off the bottom of the ninth inning by driving Lance Lynn's 13th pitch into the left-field stands to give the Nationals a 2-1 victory over the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals and force a Game 5 in their NL division series.
As he circled the bases, Werth raised his right index finger in a "No. 1" gesture, while the announced crowd of 44,392 roared. The other Nationals raced out of the dugout to greet Werth, who tossed his red batting helmet high in the air before jumping on home plate and being enveloped by a bouncing collection of thrilled teammates.
The best-of-five series will end tonight in Washington, with the winner advancing to face the San Francisco Giants in the NL championship series. The starters will provide a rematch of Game 1, which Washington won, with Gio Gonzalez on the mound for the Nationals, and Adam Wainwright for the Cardinals.
"It will be a lot like today. It's what it's all about. It's what you play all season for and what you work out all winter for and what you get to spring training early for," Werth said. "We have a chance tomorrow to take that next step. I know my teammates will be ready and the city will, too."
The homer was Werth's first with the Nationals but 14th of his career in the postseason. He won the 2008 World Series and a string of division titles with the Philadelphia Phillies before moving to Washington as a free agent before last season on a $126 million contract that stunned much of baseball.
He gets a ton of credit for helping steer a quick turnaround: The Nationals lost 100 games in 2008 and 2009, but led the majors with 98 wins and won their division this year.
"When I signed here, my first day here, I went to a Capitals game, a hockey game, (and) the place was packed. Somebody said, 'Just a few short years ago, this place was empty.' So I knew that a winning ballclub would bring the fans," Werth said, "and here we are, two years later and they're showing up and it's awesome."
Werth's shot provided a sudden end to a classic postseason contest filled with tremendous pitching. Each team managed only three hits.