Zimmerman had stepped into a fantasy and responded with nonchalance, the way he treats most every moment on a baseball diamond. He completed the Washington Nationals’ stunning, 8-4 victory with a two-out, full-count grand slam to left field, capping the rally Jayson Werth started with a memorable, 11-pitch at-bat against his former team, whom the Nationals have now beaten four times in five meetings.
The eighth walk-off home run of Zimmerman’s career lifted the Nationals to third place in the National League East, and it validated his place as a hitter who pairs poise and power like few others. Zimmerman has the more game-ending homers than any other major leaguer since he made his debut in September 2005.
“He’s one of those great players who’s totally in control in tough situations,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “He’s very calm. The rest of us get a little excited, but he doesn’t.”
Once he crossed the home plate, his Nationals teammates mobbed him. As he conducted a television interview in front of their dugout, Danny Espinosa smeared a whipped cream pie in Zimmerman’s face, and Michael Morse and Werth dumped a Gatorade bucket over his head.
“The Gatorade surprised me,” Zimmerman said. “That was a cold one.”
The walk-off home runs all the feel same, Zimmerman said, even if Friday’s capped a game not quite like any he had ever played. His laser of a run home run landed at 12:25 a.m., rain having delayed the game just five minutes after it began for 2 hours 22 minutes. Livan Hernandez pitched four innings — and threw countless warm-up pitches because of the delay. Tom Gorzelanny led the Nationals’ bullpen, which produced five scoreless innings while allowing just one hit.
The Nationals came to life, though, in the ninth. Werth had never faced Madson, a former teammate, not even in spring training drills. Madson threw him an 0-1 changeup, his best pitch, and Werth flailed so violently he fell to one knee.
Down 0-2, Werth simplified his approach. “Just try to relax and see the ball,” he said. He would be mindful of that changeup, but he also knew he had to be alert for Madson’s powerful fastball, even if it meant defensive swings. Werth fouled five pitches in between taking three balls, tipping pitches back to the net until he found one he could hit. Finally, with the count 3-2, Werth looked for a fastball, and he lined a 95-mph heater into left field.
“You can’t say enough about that at-bat,” Zimmerman said.
Espinosa followed by flaring a single to left-center. Jonny Gomes grounded a single to left that scored Werth, and an impossibility had become possible — the Nationals, down one with two runners on base and no outs, had a chance to tie the game, if not win.