Even after overhauling their roster on Tuesday morning, the Washington Nationals (29-29) seemed to still be plagued by the same problems they had been struggling with all year – sloppy defense and absent offense – until the bats abruptly came alive in the bottom of the ninth to deliver their first walk-off victory of the year over the New York Mets (22-33).
The Nationals won 3-2 thanks much in part to a typical solid start from Jordan Zimmermann, who could not have done much more to keep the Nats in a position to win. Zimmermann pitched eight innings, and allowed two unearned runs on four hits, one walk and four strikeouts.
When he exited the game, it seemed he was in line for his fourth loss of the season as the Nationals offense continued to come up short in big situations through the first eight innings of the game.
But when a big situation presented itself in the bottom of the ninth inning, the recently offensively-challenged and un-clutch Nationals unleashed the offense that had been nonexistent for the previous eight innings.
For his first hit of the day, Ryan Zimmerman led off the inning with a double, which he was nearly called out on as he tested the arm of former-National Rick Ankiel in center field. After a wild pitch from Mets closer Bobby Parnell, Zimmerman advanced to third, and then scored on a single from Adam LaRoche.
Ian Desmond followed up with a double, before Parnell intentionally walked Roger Bernadina, who has a .156 batting average, to load the bases. Steve Lombardozzi, who played second base in the absence of Danny Espinosa, then worked a nine-pitch at-bat for a sacrifice fly, which brought home LaRoche and secured a victory that his team desperately needed.
With the win, which was Parnell’s third blown save of the season, the Nationals avoided potentially falling to third place in the NL East. With the Philadelphia Phillies' 7-3 victory over the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night, a Nationals loss would have allowed Philadelphia to overtake the Nats in the standings, which would have been a blow to the morale of the team, even this early in the season.
Despite the exciting win, the Nationals still played like a team with a sub-.500 record for much of the game. They committed two errors, one of which resulted in both of the Mets' runs for the day. Their 43 errors for the year rank second in the MLB.
Before their three-hit ninth inning, the Nats had tallied only four hits, as they were essentially shut down by Mets starter Jeremy Hefner, who had a 4.74 ERA before this start. Hefner pitched seven innings, and he faced the minimum in four of them. He allowed four hits with one walk and seven strikeouts, and his lone earned run was a home run to Desmond in the second inning.
Though Desmond homered and contributed to the walk-off in the ninth, he also grounded out with the bases loaded in the sixth to end the inning and spoil the Nationals’ chance at regaining the lead earlier in the game. That inning seemed to highlight the Nationals’ offensive problems of late: without major contributions from their middle-of-the-lineup hitters, they haven’t been able to capitalize on the few opportunities to score runs they have created.
Jayson Werth went 1-for-4 with a strikeout in his first game with the Nationals since May 2 after being sidelined with a hamstring strain. Though he did not make a huge impact on the outcome of the game, manager Davey Johnson said the team had more energy with Werth back in the dugout, which he illustrated by leading the charge onto the field to celebrate the walk-off.
Will Yoder of The Nats Blog wrote today that the Nationals were in need of some sort of catalyst to wake them up and ignite their desire to win. Maybe an adrenaline-filled walk-off win will prove to be such a catalyst.