J.D. Drew likely nodded his head in approval as Jayson Werth circled the bases on Thursday. Not because the two were once teammates with the Dodgers back in 2005, but because Drew can relate to what a big postseason moment can mean, no matter how many failed expectations there are along the way.
Drew received a lot of criticism throughout his time in Boston, which is something that tends to happen when you fail to live up to your price tag. Much of the hatred was a bit over the top, as Drew actually showed an ability to get on base, played almost as much as Kevin Youkilis did and put up numbers that one could argue were better than those racked up by his predecessor, Trot Nixon. Then, when you consider the lackluster 2006-07 MLB free-agent class — which included Alfonso Soriano, Barry Zito and Carlos Lee, among others — Drew's tenure in Boston really doesn't look so bad.
The problem with Drew, however, is that aforementioned price tag — as well as his apparent lack of emotion — but money was the bigger issue. At an average of $14 million annually, Drew was expected by most Red Sox fans to be a cornerstone of the team's lineup for at least five seasons. When he proved he wasn't that player, it didn't matter how "solid" he was, because the return wasn't in line with the expectations.
Still, despite the hours of lost sleep, the hairs pulled out of scalps and the number of kids forced to cover their ears any time No. 7's name came up, Drew has a lifetime pass in the eyes of many Red Sox fans. For each fan that responds with "overrated" or "overpaid" when asked about Drew, there is another who will simply say, "Game 6."
Being a part of a winning team in Boston is appreciated, but coming up huge when it matters most is a player's ticket into the collective hearts of Red Sox Nation. Drew's first-inning Grand Slam off the Indians' Fausto Carmona — whose name has since changed to Roberto Hernandez — in Game 6 of the 2007 ALCS will forever live on as the "$14 million grand slam." No matter what happened before or after, there was at least that one J.D. Drew moment, which helped bring another World Series title to Boston.
Werth, who forced a decisive Game 5 in the Nationals' NLDS series with the Cardinals by blasting a walk-off home run on Thursday, is only in the second season of a seven-year, $126 million pact he inked with Washington prior to the 2011 season. Yet, there have already been the same moans and groans in the nation's capital as there were in Beantown when Drew was still patrolling right field. In fact, Werth's contract was seen as crazy at the time, so one could argue he's had it far worse from a pressure standpoint.
In Year 1, it was Werth's production — or lack thereof — that Nats fans were annoyed with, and understandably so. The veteran hit just .232 with 20 home runs, 58 RBIs and a .718 OPS in 150 games, which are numbers well below what he posted in Philadelphia and not even on the same planet as what a $100-plus million player should be bringing to the table.
The boos haven't been as harsh in Season 2, but a lengthy midseason stint on the disabled list limited him to 81 games, which inevitably infuriated some fans looking for their $126-million man.
On Thursday, though, Werth went a long way toward leaping into the good graces of Nationals fans. The team is already under immense pressure and scrutiny because of the Stephen Strasburg shutdown, and the Cardinals' push to knock off the heavily favored Nats has been even more disheartening for fans in D.C. But Werth finally showed his worth, capping off a 13-pitch, ninth-inning at-bat with his 14th career postseason home run and keeping Washington's season alive.
Where exactly Thursday's heroics stand in franchise history will hinge greatly on Friday's Game 5. But if the Nationals have World Series triumph in their future, we may have just witnessed the "$126 million home run," and many Nats fans may simply say, "Game 4," when asked about Jayson Werth.
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