The Nationals still had life left in their season Wednesday night, and they could use the entire flight to Miami to figure out how, exactly, that was possible. They needed Zimmermann’s acrobatics covering first, Solano’s desperate lunge, Ryan Zimmerman’s homer in the seventh and whatever dark art Manager Davey Johnson conjured as he steered them through the late innings.
All the decisions Johnson made and all the zany defensive plays the Nationals converted kept them in the picture for the National League’s second wild-card spot, 61
2 games behind a Reds team that lost in 16 innings to St. Louis. The Nationals started the night by not capitalizing on the early unraveling of diminished ace Roy Halladay, but they ended it in a handshake line after Rafael Soriano recorded his 38th save by striking out former National Roger Bernadina.
“We haven’t had that many games where those breaks have gone our way,” Stammen said. “It’s usually the other way around. So it’s finally fun to be on that side like it was last year. Yeah, it keeps us going.”
In between, the Nationals’ chances to lose and ways to win kept crashing into each other. Johnson let Zimmermann hit for himself with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth, down by a run. “The guy leading the club in wins, has been the steady guy all year long, I’ve got to give him every chance to win that ballgame,” Johnson said. The squandering of the chance kept Zimmermann in the game for his league-leading 16th win and allowed him make one of the best plays of the Nationals’ season.
“It worked out in the end,” Zimmermann said, which may have been the most fitting postscript.
In the eighth inning, catcher Wilson Ramos led off with a walk. Johnson sent call-up Jeff Kobernus to pinch run for Ramos and Scott Hairston to pinch hit for Corey Brown against lefty reliever Jake Diekman. Despite more speed on the bases, more power at the plate and a favorable matchup, Johnson called for a sacrifice bunt. Hairston laid it down, and Kobernus stood on second base with one out.
As Diekman pitched to Steve Lombardozzi, Kobernus, who had swiped 84 bases over the past two seasons in the minor leagues, studied Diekman. Kobernus bolted on a 3-0 count and slid into third base without a throw from catcher Carlos Ruiz.
Now, Lombardozzi had to put the ball in play. With the infield in, looking for a pitch he could lift for a sacrifice fly, he chased a 3-1 fastball down and chopped it over the mound. Kobernus sprinted on contact. Chase Utley charged and fielded the ball with a backhand in front of second base. He fired home, but Kobernus slid across the plate as the ball settled into Ruiz’s mitt. The Nationals had taken a 3-2 lead.