It was shaping up to be a pretty embarrassing day.
The Washington Nationals (50-54) had scored only one run over almost 18 innings of a double-header against the unimposing New York Mets (50-54), and were facing the possibility of falling to a tie for fourth place in the National League East.
But then Ryan Zimmerman saved the day.
Reminding Washington why they call him “Mr. Walk-off,” Zimmerman parked his ninth career walk-off home run in the centerfield bleachers to win the game for the Nationals, 2-1, in the bottom of the ninth.
The win was the Nationals’ second walk-off in as many days, and it avoided wasting a sparkling outing by Ross Ohlendorf who went toe-to-toe with Mets’ ace Matt Harvey.
In Ohlendorf’s last two years as a pitcher, he posted ERAs of 7.77 and 8.15. But on Friday, he kept pace with All-Star Harvey, and lowered his 2013 ERA to 1.87 while allowing his team to walk away with the win. The lone run he allowed came on a pair of doubles by Josh Satin and John Buck in the fourth inning.
Manager Davey Johnson called Ohlendorf’s seven-inning, five-hit outing “exceptional.”
“He pitched his heart out,” Johnson said. “He threw the ball good in spring, but nothing like he’s throwing it now.”
His performance stood up well against Harvey’s, who needed just 99 pitches to shut down the Nationals lineup through eight innings. The only run he gave up was on an error by Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy.
Harvey surrendered five hits, and over half of them were to Jayson Werth, who went 3-for-3 and was the only National besides Zimmerman with multiple hits.
Twice, Werth led off an inning with a single, and all three times he reached base the Nationals failed to capitalize. They couldn’t even use Werth’s presence on base to make Harvey sweat a bit. After Werth’s leadoff single in the seventh, Harvey needed just two pitches to end the inning.
But though the Nationals sustained their distressing success rate with runners in scoring position – going 0-for-8 for the day – Zimmerman’s homer made their failure moot.
At 28 years old, Zimmerman’s nine walk-off home runs are more than any player has hit before turning 30 in MLB history. As owner of a record such as that, and considering it had been 47 at-bats since Zimmerman’s last extra-base hit, it is fair to apply a commonly uttered baseball expression to his situation: He was due.
With a Philadelphia Phillies loss, the National were propelled back up to second place in the NL East. Could it be that, like Zimmerman, the Nats are also due for a prolonged string of celebratory moments?