Scott Rice makes huge pitch to Jayson Werth to help Mets beat Nationals

Scott Rice delivers a pitch during a game

Scott Rice delivers a pitch during a game against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field. (April 21, 2013) (Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

They began as first-round draft picks, both of them farmhands with the Baltimore Orioles little more than a decade ago, chosen just a few years apart.

Jayson Werth went on to a standout career in the big leagues and $126 million in free-agent riches with the Nationals. Scott Rice went on to 14 years of minor-league obscurity and peanuts for paychecks before breaking through this spring with the Mets.

"Jayson Werth gets paid a lot of money to drive in runs," Rice said Sunday after fate reunited him with Werth. "So he's going to be hacking in those kinds of situations."

Rice's hunch proved correct -- against all logic -- and for that reason alone, the Mets escaped with a 2-0 victory that gave them their first series win over the Nationals since 2011.

Of the 26,225 at Citi Field, perhaps only Rice believed that Werth would offer at his 3-and-0 pitch in the eighth inning with his team down by two runs, two runners aboard, nobody out and the game's brightest young slugger waiting on deck.

But all that mattered was that Werth chose to swing -- a decision he later called "one of the dumber things I've done on the field in a while."

Rice's sinker caught the outer half of the plate, enticing Werth to bounce it to shortstop Ruben Tejada, who began a game-saving double play.

Bryce Harper followed with a strikeout and the Mets somehow found themselves in the clear.

"We got lucky on that one," said Mets captain David Wright, who counted himself among the legions of those surprised to see Werth swing.

All the odds were stacked in Werth's favor. In all of Major League Baseball last season, only 11 batters hit into a double play on a 3-and-0 pitch. Not a single batter had done it this season until Werth rolled over Rice's sinker.

"To be honest, I was a little surprised he swung in that particular situation, but I've seen those big hitters do that," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Sometimes they hit it over the fence. Sometimes they hit ground-ball double plays."

Bobby Parnell slammed the door in the ninth for his second save of the season, capping a strong effort by starter Dillon Gee. The righthander tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings against one of the league's toughest offenses.

John Buck hit his team-leading seventh homer, a solo shot in the second inning that gave him a league-leading 22 RBIs. Mike Baxter made it 2-0 in the fourth with his bases-loaded sacrifice fly against Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann.

All of it would have been spoiled had Rice not tossed the most important leg of the bullpen's 3 1/3 scoreless innings.

The eighth began poorly for the Mets. Pinch hitter Steve Lombardozzi lofted a single to left and Denard Span followed with a walk. Rice couldn't throw strikes, and by the time he found himself behind 3-and-0 to Werth, he hoped only to "throw it down the middle, let it run and take a little bit off it."

Since being drafted in 1999, Rice had faced a grand total of 34 big-league batters before facing Werth, all of them this season with the Mets. By contrast, since his selection in 1997, Werth had made more than 4,000 plate appearances in the big leagues. But for one critical moment, with the game on the line, none of it mattered.

"The situation got the best of me," Werth said. "I feel like I pretty much blew it."

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