Inside the 11-pitch Jayson Werth at-bat that sparked the Nats’ comeback

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WASHINGTON — Clear eyes, full beard, can’t lose.

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That’s what it read, in faded black letters, on the front of the custom gray T-shirt that was wearing as he sat in front of his locker and talked about his game-altering, series-shifting, marathon at-bat. Inspired by the movie “Friday Night Lights” (“clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose”), the shirt was a gift from a fan a few years back. Even though this was a Wednesday night, the message couldn’t have been more apt.

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With the Nats trailing 6-4 and staring down the barrel of a third straight Beltway Series loss, the 37-year-old outfielder stepped in against Baltimore’s to lead things off. An All-Star last year as a setup man, Brach — who recently took over the closer gig for injured teammate and has been good enough to record eight saves already — features three plus-pitches, a rarity for a reliever.

Limited Shawn O’Malley Jersey After getting ahead of Brach two balls and a strike, Werth fouled off a 95 mile-an-hour heater that evened the count. Brach then went fastball-slider-fastball, and Werth went foul-foul-foul. The next pitch of the at-bat, the eighth one, was the pivot point. The first splitter of the at-bat, it dove down and away, begging Werth to wave his wand. Instead, he spat on it.

Shawn O’Malley Jersey #36 “That was the pitch of the at-bat,” Werth said afterward. “Because now it’s 3-2 and chances are he’s not going to mess around and try to throw something that’s a strikeout pitch. Because if he walks me, now he’s gotta deal with the guys behind me.”

For the record, the guys behind Werth were , and , a modern-day Murderer’s Row who came in hitting .370, .410 and .333, respectively. Also for the record, Brach did not mess around. Instead of the slider or the splitter, he came with two straight fastballs, both 96 mph, both of which Werth fouled off. By then, 10 pitches into the at-bat, Werth felt like the balance of power had shifted.

“The longer that thing goes, the more it’s in my favor,” said the 15-year vet who knows a thing or two about long ABs. Among active players, Werth’s 4.60 pitches per plate appearance ranks second, just behind Yankees leadoff man (4.61). “If you can foul off some pitches and continue the at-bat, you get more in rhythm with the pitcher.”

By the time the 11th and final pitch of the at-bat rolled around, Werth and Brach were like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. The O’s hurler unleashed another helping of cheese — this time middle-away — and Werth devoured it, sending it over the right-center-field wall and cutting the lead to a single run. More importantly, the endless AB seemed to exhaust Brach.

“He threw 11 pitches and didn’t get an out,” Nats starter said of Brach. “Obviously, for a reliever, that’s huge. It really set the tone and I think the guys caught on fire after that.”

Harper followed with a double down the left-field line. After Zimmerman grounded out, Murphy walked. then singled to load the bases, setting the stage for Wieters. But really it was Werth who set the stage.

“It’s tough to put 11 pitches in your first at-bat against any closer,” Wieters said of his teammate, who has made of a habit of late-game long balls on lengthy ABs. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, since the start of the 2016 season, Werth has homered four times in the seventh inning or later on at-bats of eight or more pitches (got that?), more than anyone in baseball. “He got Brad’s pitch count up, and we were able to keep grinding.”

After the grinding came to a halt, back in front of his locker, Werth was asked if his prior success against Brach — against whom he was 1-for-3 with a homer — helped him under the Wednesday night lights.

“I didn’t even know I faced him before,” said Werth, dead-serious. “I get paid to forget and I’m good at it. I couldn’t tell you what happened yesterday or the day before. I just black out and see what happens.”

Clear eyes, full beard, can’t remember.

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