“I’m not real sure why he swung at it,” Zimmermann said. “It almost hit him in the back foot.”
It was that kind of night for Zimmermann at Kaufman Stadium. He allowed two runs over 72
3 innings for his 15th win, which tied him for the National League lead. The Nationals backed up their 11-run onslaught Friday even without red-hot Werth, who sat out with a troubling infection in his right foot. They scored four runs in the fourth inning with the help of an ill-fated intentional walk, and Ian Desmond blasted a two-run homer in the sixth.
The ninth inning provided welcome boredom, a 1-2-3 performance by Tyler Clippard. Spooked by a recent string of horrific final innings, Manager Davey Johnson used his best reliever despite a five-run lead with the bottom of the Royals’ order due up.
“I wasn’t taking any chances,” Johnson said. “I wanted to ice that one down.”
The night before, Johnson had yanked Drew Storen two batters into the ninth. He could tell from the glare Storen gave he was angry, and Johnson did not care. Victory, for him, took precedent over feelings.
“We’re in a pennant race, man,” Johnson said Saturday afternoon. “It’s time to get some energy flowing. I’m in my pennant mode now. We got to win every ballgame.”
The Nationals, really, are only on the edge of a pennant race, 81
2 games behind the Cincinnati Reds for the National League’s second wild-card spot with 33 games left. But they have not faded all the way to black.
Their fifth straight win matched a season high and made them 11-4 in their past 15 games, during which time they have scored 5.7 runs per game. After Sunday, the Nationals’ next 19 games will come against the eminently beatable New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies and Miami Marlins. They need more help than they count on, and time is an enemy that may already have won. And yet meaningful September baseball is not out of the question.
“It’s just been a matter of time,” Desmond said. “We’re starting to get hot.”
They just need to keep winning almost every night. On Saturday, they relied on Zimmermann and an offense finally approaching the standard it set in 2012. Zimmermann had been rocked Tuesday against the Chicago Cubs, which raised his ERA over 10 starts since July to 5.96. He had nibbled with too many offspeed pitches, and “that’s not the way I pitch,” Zimmermann said.