Originally published on October 30, 2008
HIS VOICE scratched out words the way he scratched out at-bats, the way he scratched his name into Phillies folklore.
Jayson Werth was out there so much in the 3 days it took to complete this game that he caught a nasty cold, a cold that matched his voice to his wildish looks, but a cold that did not impede him one bit.
Cole Hamels was the Most Valuable Player of the World Series, and deservedly so. But the fuzzy face of the team's second-ever championship was Werth, from its scary start to its scary ending.
Werth was the player who most embodied the uneven and bumpy championship ride. He threw out runners. He was picked off and thrown out himself. He overran a ball in Game 2 that cost a run, threw a guy out in the same game.
He saw 24 pitches in three at-bats against Tampa starter Scott Kazmir Monday night, dropped a two-strike blooper into center in the sixth inning last night to score Geoff Jenkins from third with the first go-ahead run of last night's tense World Series clincher.
"I definitely felt like I was in the middle of everything," he said. "Everything good. Everything bad.
"It seemed like I couldn't get out of the way."
Werth hit better than any regular in this World Series, a .444 average that included two hits and two walks in the Phillies' 4-3 Game 5 victory. With Jimmy Rollins struggling for hits right up to the end, he was the alternate leadoff man, watching pitches, fouling off good ones, pressuring a Rays staff that came into this series thinking this lineup was not as potent as the ones they had already conquered.
Judging from the big boys, there was some truth to that. Chase Utley finished with a .167 average in the World Series. Jimmy Rollins hit .227. Ryan Howard was a healthy .286 with three home runs and six of the Phillies' 23 RBI in this series. But all three struggled mightily at times with runners in scoring position, including last night. The Phillies had 81 total bases in this series, almost doubling the Rays' 49, yet won three one-run games against them.
Werth had eight hits, four for extra bases. He walked six times, had three of the Phillies' seven stolen bases this series. He battled literally every at-bat, including last night against Grant Balfour, with Geoff Jenkins on third and one out in the sixth.
"Two strikes again," he said. "Seems like I'm always hitting with two strikes."
The champagne dripped from his face, his hair, that hairy chin of his. Werth would have fit in well with those '93 Phillies, would have been right in the middle of all their fun, too. But the look, the big sunglasses and the mop that emerges from his hat and always looks as if it's hanging out the window of a car, masks a more serious dude, a guy with long baseball roots.
His grandfather, Ducky Schofield, played in the major leagues for 19 seasons. His uncle, Dick, played 14 years, was on that Angels team that lost a 3-1 lead to the Red Sox in the 1986 ALCS. His stepfather, Dennis, played 4 years.
"They know how special this is," he said. "They have been telling me to go out there and enjoy this, to grab it, to play hard."
He did. None of Werth's mistakes in this series were made from indecision. None of them cowered him or stifled his play.
"I'm an aggressive player," he said. "Maybe at times too aggressive. I made aggressive mistakes. We got hurt a little by them, but that's also why we were in this position, to win a championship."
The Phillies lost three games in their run. Three games. And yet, right up to the very end, there was this underdog feel to it. They somehow survived Manny Ramirez and the genius of Joe Torre. They somehow beat the team that emerged from the so-called best division in baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays, the team that knocked off the champs.
They did it five excruciating games. At-bat, by at-bat, by at-bat.
Werth was the centerpiece of so much. At times, he was a human rain delay out there, fouling off pitch after pitch after pitch, six in one at-bat against Kazmir, eight the next time, 10 the time after that.
As his hair has grown out of his hat, and his goatee has become more distinguished, I have often teased that he looked like a Jim Henson Muppet. He never seemed to take it very well, at least until last night, when he looked at his drenched clothes and rubbed his matted hair, and heard himself speak.
"Now I sound like one, huh?" he scratched.
Yes you do, Jayson. So embrace it. Because tomorrow, there will be a zillion kids in the Delaware Valley dressed just like you, goatee and all.
Pretending to foul off pitches until they get something they really like. *
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