Adam LaRoche drilled a two-run homer, his 16th, that secured Zimmermann’s seventh win. Steve Lombardozzi added a clutch, two-RBI double off the top of the right field wall in the seventh inning, turning a 2-1 nail-biter into a three-run breeze. The runs changed the game more than the Nationals would have hoped.
Clippard, on the day before Drew Storen’s expected return, suffered another hiccup when he surrendered a solo homer by David Wright to lead off the ninth inning. With two outs, he gave up another to Jason Bay, crushed off the left field foul pole. He rebounded to retire Jordany Valdespin, who rocked a homer off him during his Tuesday meltdown, to seal his 15th — and shakiest — save.
“That was almost as fun as last night,” Manager Davey Johnson said.
The night, again, belonged to Zimmermann. He has opened the second half of the season with 12 consecutive scoreless innings. He has allowed one or no runs in five straight starts, a streak that lowered his ERA to 2.35, best among Nationals starters — better than all-stars Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, Thursday’s starter — by nearly a third of a run. For most of this season, the Nationals may have thought they had two aces. Now they know they have three.
“He’s a man out there,” Johnson said. “He has a great presence. He knows what he wants to do. There’s no muss, no fuss. Here, hit it.”
The victory nudged the Nationals to 17 games over .500, a new high-water mark for the season. They have taken hold of Washington, vaulting from also-ran to NL pacesetter. They are young and may well contend for years to come, but there will never be another year like this one, when they took baseball by storm and the city by giddy surprise.
Stories spill out of these Nationals. After the flap this weekend in Miami between Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen and Nationals rookie Bryce Harper, LaRoche sent Guillen a bat autographed by Harper. “I covered that thing in pine tar,” LaRoche said. It turns out LaRoche once served as Guillen’s batboy, when LaRoche’s father coached for the Chicago White Sox.
“This is part of this team’s progression right now,” said outfielder Jayson Werth, who will begin a rehab assignment Friday. “We’re building relationships and chemistry that could go on for the rest of our lives. This is a fun time. This is what it’s all about right here. Hopefully you build on this year. You become a better team. The more you play with each other, the more you learn each other. That’s when it gets fun.”