|Zim's back. Get it? (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|
Tuesday night's game marked the return of the Washington Nationals Face of the Franchise Ryan Zimmerman from a two-month absence from abdominal surgery. And while he might have looked a little rusty at times, his double to the right field corner in the seventh inning spurred a furious six-run explosion which delivered the Nats a come-from-behind 8-6 win over the St. Louis Cardinals before a raucous crowd of 26,739.
The win is the Nats fourth in a row, and pulls them to within five games of .500 at 31-36.
Washington got down early in this one, courtesy of an Albert Pujols two-run bomb in the first inning, a Lance Berkman solo shot in the fourth, and some shaky defense that led to three runs in the fifth, all off starter Yunesky Maya. But rookie Ryan Mattheus and Henry Rodriguez, presumably in mop-up time, held the Cards hitless over the next two innings, giving the Nats bats a chance to wake up.
|Ryan Matthues Major League debut. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|
The Nats scratched out single runs off Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia in the fourth and sixth. Roger Bernadina, inserted in the bottom of the first after Rick Ankiel injured his left intercostal muscle making a catch (day-to-day), delivered a two-out single to plate Michael Morse, who'd doubled, to get the Nats on the board. Later, Morse scored again when Bernadina grounded into a double play with no outs, and it seemed like not scoring more there would come back to haunt the Nats.
But Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa sent former National reliever Miguel Batista out to start the seventh, a move that cost him dearly.
Jayson Werth earned a one-out walk, and Ian Desmond reached on an infield single to first. Zimmerman was late on an 89-MPH cutter from Batista, but got good wood on it, sending it to the right field corner. Jon Jay couldn't track it down and it went for a double, but Desmond had to hold to make sure it wasn't caught and ended up at third. No matter, as Morse ground out to short and Desmond carried the Nats fourth run home, with Zimmerman moving up to third.
That's when things got a little freaky.
Danny Espinosa served a soft liner to center that fell in front of Colby Rasmus and Zimmerman walked in with the fifth Nats run and Wilson Ramos' ball up the middle couldn't be handled by shortstop Ryan Theriot, who had a rough night with two errors and two others that could have been as well.
|Espinosa was safe when Theriot couldn't come up with the grounder. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|
LaRussa yanked Batista (L, 3-2) and called on his lefty Trever Miller. Miller plunked Bernadina with his first pitch to load the bases, then uncorked a wild pitch to pinch-hitter Ivan Rodriguez to plate the game-tying run.
Miller then gave Rodriguez a free pass to load them up yet again, and LaRussa went back to his pen to bring in the 98-MPH fastball of Jason Motte. Riggleman called on Laynce Nix to pinch-hit, and after an 11-pitch at bat, Motte finally issued ball four to walk in the lead run. But the Nats weren't done, as Werth followed up with a sharp line drive to right to score Bernadina and give the Nats an insurance run.
All that was left was for Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen to do their jobs, and both did without incident, with Clippard earning his 17th hold (with two strikeouts) and Storen his 16th save of the season.
The atmosphere in the seventh-inning rally was electric, a scene not matched at Nats Park since Stephen Strasburg's debut last June. The crowd was on their feet the whole rally, standing and cheering with every Nats success. It was a tremendous organic display of fervor for good baseball in this town, and gives promise that as this team finds itself more and more in the coming months and years, D.C. will fill the stadium along the Anacostia with rabid baseball fans.
Things looked bleak for a while, as the Cardinals took a 6-1 lead into the middle innings and the Nats squandered some fortune in the fifth and sixth innings. But as Riggleman has said on several occasions, if they keep putting runners out there, eventually some of them are going to score. At least for one night, they did. And maybe all it took was the return of their best player to the lineup to provide that impetus.
THE GOOD: The Nats pounded out 13 hits last night, though a couple of fumbled ground balls by Cardinal infielders were favorably called hits. Regardless, Werth, Morse, Ramos and Bernadina all had two hits, and Espinosa had three.
THE BAD: The play that opened the Cardinals floodgates for their three-run fifth was a botched routine ground ball hit to Ian Desmond. Desmond couldn't decide to flip to Espinosa covering or take it himself quickly enough, and made a late -- and poor -- toss. Espinosa had no chance to turn the DP, and with the bases loaded a run scored. Two singles off Maya later and the Cardinals blew the game open at the time.
There was no error on the play, as a double play can't be assumed. But it was a mental error that could very well have spelled doom for the Nats were it not for Batista's implosion in the seventh.
THE UGLY: Yunesky Maya. With Tom Gorzelanny just about ready to be reinstated from the D.L., Maya needed a good performance to keep his name in the picture, but this was anything but. He gave up six earned runs on nine hits and two walks in 4 2/3 innings, allowing two line drive homers. His season ERA is 6.86 in four starts and he's allowed 33 base runners in just 19 2/3 innings. He made it out of the fifth inning in just one of his four starts.
THE STATS: 13 hits, four walks, eight strikeouts. 5-for-13 with RISP, nine LOB, two GIDP. No errors.
NEXT GAME: Wednesday against the Cardinals at 7:05 from Nats Park. Livan Hernandez (3-8, 4.15) faces RHP Kyle McClellan (6-2, 3.86).
NATS NOTES: The Nationals announced following the game that 1B Adam LaRoche will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery Thursday, under care of team doctors. Details and quotes from GM Mike Rizzo and Dr. Wiemi Douoguih can be found here.
We'll have extensive coverage of the opening of the new concessions on the Scoreboard Walk on Nats News Network: Off the Field.
|Welcome back, Zim. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|