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The Washington Nationals blew a lead late in last night's game, but managed to win and now they're one curly-W away from clinching the NL East.
Jordan Zimmermann had 6.0 scoreless innings in the books and a 4-0 lead over the Cardinals last night in St. Louis. The Nats' 26-year-old right-hander had put the first two Cards on in the fourth but retired the next three batters to strand them both. Cardinals' shortstop Pete Kozma singled to start the fifth, but St. Louis' starter Kyle Lohse K'd trying to bunt and Jon Jay grounded into and inning-ending 6-4-3. After Zimmermann retired the side in order on 11 pitches in the bottom of the sixth, he was up to 93 pitches overall. Nats' skipper Davey Johnson liked what he saw so he sent his starter back out for the seventh.
After recording the first out of the Cards' half of the inning, Zimmermann surrendered three straight hits, singles by Carlos Beltran and Skip Schumaker and a two-run double by Pete Kozma that finally got St. Louis on the board, down 4-2 with one out in the bottom of the seventh. A walk to David Freese ended Zimmermann's night 19 pitches into the seventh at 112 pitches overall. Two pitches from reliever Sean Burnett later, an RBI single by Jon Jay made it a one-run game at 4-3 before Sean Burnett and Ryan Mattheus got Washington out of the inning with the lead.
Asked after the game if he had thought twice about sending Zimmermann back out for the seventh, Davey Johnson told reporters in the press conference that he was comfortable sending Zimmermann out because of how he'd looked in the fifth and sixth. "The fact is," Davey Johnson said, "Normally when [Zimmermann] got around a hundred pitches I would have hooked him, but I really liked the way he was throwing. The fifth and sixth inning he was really throwing the ball good. Sixth was probably his best inning. His velocity was there. I think he made a bad pitch to the shortstop and came inside on him. We didn't locate on some guys in their lineup. We know how to pitch them, but we didn't locate late in the ballgame. I don't know if it's jitters from being in a pennant race, or whatever, but that hadn't happened in the past."
Tyler Clippard came on in the eighth, and after giving up a one-out walk got an inning-ending DP to preserve the Nats' one run lead. Drew Storen then entered the game in the ninth and blew the save, surrendering back-to-back one-out singles and a sac fly that tied it at 4-4. Storen struck Matt Carpenter out to end the inning, but Jordan Zimmermann, who'd thrown six scoreless and left with a lead after 6.1 IP would receive no decision for his effort in his 32nd start of 2012.
"I really feel bad that we didn't save it for [Zimmermann]," Davey Johnson told reporters, "He pitched a heck of a ballgame. Really great ballgame. Unfortunately we didn't save it in nine. But he was outstanding." The Nationals scored two in the top of the 10th on Kurt Suzuki's double and Craig Stammen came on to close it out and earn his first save of the year in the Nationals' 96th win of 2012. Three innings before the Nats locked down the win, the Atlanta Braves finished off the New York Mets to keep Washington from clinching the NL East for at least one more day.
Davey Johnson said he was keeping a close eye on the out-of-town scoreboard throughout Saturday night's game. "Oh yeah, of course," the Nats' skipper said, "How can you not. That thing is bigger than... even with my old eyes I can see it. Without helpers." The 69-year-old manager didn't need helpers to see the scoreboard and he won't need help from the Nats' "friends" in New York when the Nationals head to Busch Stadium for this afternoon's series finale with St. Louis. After a 158 games it's as simple as this: Win and the pennant Davey Johnson told the baseball world he wanted last November is clinched.
"It's fun," Johnson said, "It's fun. I'll sleep good tonight and we got a local boy pitching [Sunday]. So, it should be exciting." That local boy is '07 1st Round pick Ross Detwiler, the 26-year-old left-hander whose emergence as a legitimate starter in the league's best rotation has been overseen by Davey Johnson over the year and a half he's been on the bench for Washington. Win this afternoon and the Washington Nationals claim the first pennant by a D.C.-based team since 1933.
The Nats scored early then came up empty for nine innings, blew a late lead, but came through for the win in extra innings. There's no quit. The Nationals aren't letting up now though. "We're in a pennant race and we're not wilting," Davey Johnson said after Saturday night's win. The pennant is just another step. Win today and they clinch it, yes, but there's a lot of baseball left to be played even if they do...