Still think Ryan Zimmerman shouldn’t be an All-Star? The third baseman hit not one, but two home runs last night, the second being a walk-off winner to center field in the bottom of the ninth to give the Nationals a 6-5 win over the Padres.
This game saw the Nationals continue their sloppy play, which naturally resulted in costly runs for San Diego. In the top of the first, with Scott Hairston batting, a wild pitch by Livan Hernandez moved Tony Gwynn Jr. from second to third and Jerry Hairston from first to second, putting two runners in scoring position with just one out. Later in the at bat, Scott Hairston drove in Gwynn on a sacrifice fly to right, giving the Padres a run they probably shouldn’t have earned.
The Nationals responded in the bottom half of the first by scoring three runs with two outs. Nyjer Morgan led off the inning with a base hit into center field, but was followed by two consecutive flyouts to right by Cristian Guzman and Ryan Zimmerman. Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham then walked putting Padres starter Clayton Richard in a bases loaded with two out situation. It didn’t take long for the Nats to capitalize on this opportunity as Ivan Rodriquez singled off of Richards leg on his second pitch of the at bat, scoring Morgan and giving Richard another bases loaded jam to get out of. The next batter, Mike Morse, hit Richard’s very next pitch up the middle, allowing Dunn and Willingham to score putting Washington ahead 3-1. This inning alone had to have manager Jim Riggleman wondering where this clutch hitting has been for the past month.
The Padres began clawing their way back in the top of the third after an RBI by who other than Adrian Gonzalez, but the Nationals wouldn’t let it stay that close for long. The bottom of the fourth saw Ryan Zimmerman hit his fifteenth home run of the year and Ian Desmond hit his fifth out of the park in the following inning giving the Nationals a 5-2 lead.
As all baseball fans know, “it ain’t over till its over”, and this one was far from done. Livan came out to start the top of the eighth but was pulled after giving up consecutive base hits to Gonzalez and Scott Hairston. Tyler Clippard came in for relief, but, like Hernandez, he failed to retire either of the first two batters he faced giving up a base hit to Chase Headley and an RBI single to Yorvit Torrealba, cutting the Nats lead to 5-3. Now with a runner on second and third with no one out, it was time for Clippard to bear down. Instead, he saw his team’s lead shrink to just one run after an Aaron Cunningham sacrifice fly. With Sean Burnett now in for Clippard and Headley on second and Torrealba on first, the Nationals got a gift when pinch hitter Oscar Salazar hit into what looked like an inning ending double play. But, as The Nats Blog has pointed out before, nothing is a sure thing with these middle infielders as Ian Desmond failed to get the third out of the inning by sending his throw wildly to Dunn’s left, allowing Headley to score. This was Desmond’s major league-leading 21st error of the season. The Nats had successfully blown their three run lead, and with the score 5-5, it was anyone’s ballgame.
Remarkably, Desmond redeemed himself with a great heads-up play in the top of the ninth. With Jerry Hairston on first and his brother Scott Hairston at the plate, “Hairston the hitter” drove a Matt Capps offering to the corner of left field, allowing Josh Willingham to show off his jets as he sprinted to retrieve the ball and threw it to Desmond who was positioned as the relay man, who then turned and fired the ball to home plate, beating “Hairston the base runner” by a mile.
The bottom of the ninth lasted all but two pitches as Ryan Zimmerman sent everyone home happy by smashing a home run to center, giving the Nats a wild 6-5 victory. The Nationals will be tested tonight by Jon Garland (8-5, 3.24 ERA), while Washington will counter with the winless J.D. Martin (0-4, 3.38).