Not many things in life are truly worth the wait. The ending of tonight’s game absolutely was.
Ryan Zimmerman jacked a two-run home run in the top of the sixteenth inning after Anthony Rendon tied the game in the eighth, and the Washington Nationals (41-35) won just their second extra-inning game of the year, defeating the Milwaukee Brewers (47-32), 4-2 in 16 innings.
The Nats kicked off the game with a first-inning run against Yovani Gallardo, but it would be quite a while until they scored again. Six innings later, and seven innings after that, the third basemen of the future and past came up huge with pivotal home runs.
But way back at the beginning of the game, in a stadium filled with friends and family from his hometown of Auburndale, WI, Jordan Zimmermann came out of the gate on fire. With picture-perfect stuff, he retired the first ten batters he faced, striking out six. But, perhaps due to starting out so amped up, he seemed to hit a wall. He let six of the next ten batters reach base, including a two-run single from Ryan Braun that gave Milwaukee the lead.
He was perfect in the game’s first three innings on just 35 pitches, but allowed two runs on six hits and two walks over his next three. Once looking like he would throw a shutout, Zimmermann finished with a great line that felt somewhat disappointing after how the night began: 6 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 9 K.
After touching up Gallardo early, the Nats were unable to get much else off of him. He seemed to go to deep counts with every batter, which forced him out of the game after just six innings with 104 pitches, but he only gave up four baserunners after the first inning. His final line was reminiscent of Gio Gonzalez’s from the day before: one run on four hits with two walks and five strikeouts.
Both bullpens seemed to be rolling along steadily with the Nats down 2-1, and it looked as though the Nats’ hopes for a comeback were dwindling. But Rendon, lefty killer and clutch home run hitter, went deep to center off of the Brewers’ Will Smith and knotted the score at two. With 12 on the season, Rendon now trails only Ian Desmond’s 14 homers among Nats, and he leads them all in oWAR at 2.0.
From there, the teams settled in for the long haul. Both bullpens each threw nine scoreless innings, the equivalent of a complete-game shutout, before the Nats finally broke through.
The Nats’ salvation, and an unexpected star in this game, was Ross Detwiler. He came out of the bullpen and tossed four scoreless innings, giving up just two hits and a walk while striking out two. Entering tonight’s game with a 4.97 ERA and seemingly no confidence from manager Matt Williams, he greatly improved both with an excellent showing. Williams described his performance as “fantastic.” Every reliever pitched tonight, and together, they threw ten scoreless innings, giving up four hits and five walks while striking out six.
Another honorable MVP mention goes to Desmond, who made a pair of spectacular running jump throws to nail runners at first. (Yes, those are different GIFs, all courtesy of GIFspert Brendan Sheridan, AKA @md_dc)
On the other hand, the Nats’ LVP was the bottom third of the order. Jose Lobaton, and the pitcher’s spot both went 0-for-6, while Danny Espinosa was 0-for-7. With runners on first and second with one out in the 14th, Espinosa and Lobaton both made weak contact and failed to drive a run in.
Though Detwiler’s performance was huge, Zimmerman was the clear star of today’s game. Entering today, he was mired in a massive slump, and had not hit a home run since returning from the DL. Of course, that all changed today, as he went 3-for-7 with a two-run homer in the 16th that gave the Nats the lead. For his reputation as Mr. Walkoff, that was his first career extra-innings home run.
To cap things off, Zimmerman made an incredible diving catch to prevent a double in the bottom half of the inning. Thanks in large part to Zim’s efforts, Rafael Soriano recorded his 18th save of the year.
The win keeps the Nats two games ahead of the victorious Atlanta Braves, and pushes them 3.5 ahead of the Miami Marlins. Tomorrow will be difficult with a completely exhausted bullpen, but this effort against the team with the best record in baseball is huge. Holding one of baseball’s best offenses to two total runs over 25 innings is an incredible feat. At 14-8 in June, the Nats are 0.5 games behind the Seattle Mariners for the month’s best record, and can go for the sweep tomorrow.