In a beautiful afternoon for baseball filled with fabulous pitching and unnecessary drama, the Washington Nationals sent 41,000 fans home happy with a 3-2, 10-inning victory over the Cincinnati Reds. Mr. Walk-Off Ryan Zimmerman became, to paraphrase Nationals’ radio announcer Dave Jaegeler, “Mr. Run-Off” when he scored from third base with two out on Alfredo Simon‘s wild pitch.
All of this drama seemed quite unlikely after Gio Gonzalez pitched seven innings of shutout baseball, limiting the Reds to two hits, with seven strikeouts. Gonzalez, who also got his first major league hit today, hit 94-95 on his fastball, spotted it precisely, and used his curveball to devastating effect on Cincinnati’s batters.
Tyler Clippard relieved Gonzalez in the eighth inning. He surrendered a lead-off double and struggled with hs command, but recovered in time to fan pinch-hitter Chris Heisey and Drew Stubbs to hand the game and the shutout to closer Brad Lidge.
That’s when the unpleasant drama began. Lidge retired Zack Cozart to begin the ninth, but pitched tentatively to Reds’ slugger Joey Votto and walked him. Scott Rolen then doubled past Zimmerman, who was playing off the line.
Davey Johnson visited Lidge and Washington decided to intentionally walk Jay Bruce, putting the go-ahead run on base. Ryan Ludwick then bounced a ground ball to third that looked like a routine force out at worst or, at best, a game-ending double play.
Zimmerman, who had an up-and-down day with the glove this afternoon, failed to get in front of the ball and it skipped past his glove for a game-tying single. The Nationals’ third baseman redeemed himself by making a fine inning-ending catch of Devin Mesaroco’s foul ball.
The Nats loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the ninth and looked poised for a walk-off victory. But Danny Espinosa grounded into a home to first double play on a fine scoop of his hard ground ball by Reds; pitcher Jose Arredondo.
In extra innings, Craig Stammen struck out three consecutive Cincinnati hitters, including former National Willie Harris, on 11 pitches. A few moments later, Alfredo Simon, recently picked up on waivers after being released by Baltimore, bounced a pitch to Roger Bernadina. The ball bounced far enough away for Zimmerman, who reached base when Simon hit him in the back on his second pitch of the inning, to score and make the Nationa’s 2012 home opener a happy one for the hometown crowd.
The win, the Nats’ third straight, gives them a 5-2 record, their best 7-game mark since they came to the nation’s capital in 2005.
Champs of the Game: Gio Gonzalez, who pitched brilliantly, redeeming his poor Nationals debut in Chicago, and Craig Stammen, who completely dominated the Reds hitters, setting the stage for Zimmerman’s heroics and earning his first win of 2012.
For the Reds, relievers Arrendondo and Sam LeCure pitched four innings of shutout relief, keeping their team in the game.
Chumps of the Game: Despite making two great plays at third base and scoring the game-winning run, Zimmerman nearly cost Washington an uplifting win in their first home game by his maddening tendency to try to scoop grounders from the side rather than getting in front of the ball. Poor fundamentals come back to haunt you sometimes, no matter how talented you are.
The Nationals management also deserves a few boos for yet again having concessions and parking unprepared to handle a sell-out crowd. It should come as no surprise that this game, above all others, will attract a large crowd. The team has had five seasons in the new park. It is time to get these details right.
For the Reds, in addition to Simon, their hitters fanned 12 times and seldom made solid contact.
Unsung Heroes: Adam LaRoche, whose two out, two-RBI single in the fifth finally gave Washington a clutch hit with runners in scoring position. Also, Ian Desmond made some subtly tough plays at short, showing great range, and got three hits again today.
For the Reds, Zack Cozart kept Desmond’s ninth inning hit in the infield, preserving the game, albeit for just one more inning.
Next game: Tomorrow, Friday August 13, 7:05 p.m. at Nationals Park. Jordan Zimmerman faces Bronson Arroyo.