On Wednesday, for the third straight night, the Washington Nationals held a lead into the late innings of their game in St. Louis, and for the third straight night, the bullpen failed them, this time coughing up a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning. But unlike the prior two nights, the Nationals found a way to emerge victorious this time. Or, more correctly, Ryan Zimmerman put the team on his back and carried them to a win that the team desperately needed.
Wednesday’s affair bore more differences from Tuesday’s meltdown than just the final result. On this night, there was never a four-run lead to choke away. The game was touch-and-go from the outset, with neither squad managing to mount any lead that couldn’t have been erased with a single swing of the bat. Even with the bases empty, pitchers stared down the tying or go-ahead run with every at-bat.
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It was St. Louis that struck first on Brandon Moss‘ towering solo shot to right field, a monster home run that looked as if it could have cleared the St. Louis Arch. Measured at 494 feet, the only ball that had ever been hit further at Busch Stadium had been one by Prince Fielder in a Home Run Derby. Moss received a curtain call, and the Cardinals led, 1-0.
Washington would score the next two runs on a pair of solo homers. Though not quite as impressive as Moss’, they still counted just the same. Jayson Werth first tied the game in the third inning with a two-out shot. Then, just one inning later, Ryan Zimmerman hit one out over the left field fence to give the Nationals a 2-1 lead.
The Nationals would hold that meager lead until the fifth. Max Scherzer surrendered singles to Jason Heyward and Jhonny Peralta to put runners at the corners with one out. Scherzer then managed to collect one strikeout, but the next hitter, Tommy Pham did just enough to fight off a 97 mile per hour fastball. The ball found an open spot in shallow right field, and Heyward raced home to tie the game at two.
Ryan Zimmerman’s second solo shot of the night would give Washington the lead back in the top of the sixth. This time it was in the leadoff spot, and this time it just barely made it into the first row of seats in right-center field. It was Zimmerman’s 200th career home run, and it gave the Nationals a 3-2 advantage.
Unfortunately, Scherzer (six innings, two earned runs, 11 H, ten K’s, no walks) was done for the night, and the bullpen, while composed of a different cast of characters than Monday and Tuesday’s meltdowns (thankfully Casey Janssen was nowhere to be found), could not hold onto that lead.
Matt Thornton made a quick cameo, recording his single out before giving way to Blake Treinen. Treinen’s outing lasted a fair bit longer. He surrendered back-to-back singles to Peralta and Moss. Once he recorded a strikeout, he was shown the door for Matt Grace, who promptly allowed Kolten Wong to drive an RBI single back up the middle and tie the game at three. Rafael Martin, the fourth pitcher of the inning, at least managed to close the frame without putting the Nationals in the hole.
But, Ryan Zimmerman refused to go without a fight. After Anthony Rendon walked and advanced to second on a single by Matt den Dekker, Zimmerman shot a line drive off of the wall down the first base line. It was an RBI double, and for the third time that night, he had give the Nationals a lead, this time at 4-3.
This time, the Nationals would manage to hold on to the lead. Drew Storen worked a perfect eighth inning. Jonathan Papelbon managed to work around trouble – runners at the corners with just one out – and the Nationals managed to match the Mets, who won 9-4 over the Phillies.
The win moves the Nats back to two games over .500 at 67-65 and keeps them 6.5 games back of New York. The Nationals will head home tomorrow, where they’ll kick off a series against the Braves by sending Jordan Zimmermann (11-8, 3.45 ERA) to face Matt Wisler (5-5, 5.22 ERA).
Note: Bryce Harper left the game in the fourth inning. According to reports, it was due to a left glute strain. It seems as if the team was simply taking precautionary measures.