Rendon’s leaping, full-extension grab in the sixth saved a run, helping Fernando Abad strand Eduardo Escobar at third base after a leadoff triple. In the bottom of the inning, Rendon poked a single to left to lead off.
After two outs, Denard Span drilled a triple into the right-field corner, scoring Rendon with the tying run. Span clapped his hands when he stood up at third, an emphatic celebration of a clutch hit against his old team. Back in the dugout, Desmond told him, “Now you’re part of the team.”
The Nationals’ completed their comeback in the seventh. LaRoche roped a double to right off Anthony Swarzak. On the very next pitch, Desmond smashed a liner past Willingham in left-center field, giving the Nationals a 5-4 lead. Standing on second base, he threw an imaginary spotlight on the Nationals’ dugout.
“This was probably our best ballgame,” Span said. “Normally, early on in the season when we would get behind we would just fold and give away at-bats. We just kept fighting and having good at-bats.”
Around noon, as Johnson chatted with the team, he looked around the room and saw Zimmermann with a heat pad wrapped around his neck to ward off stiffness. Johnson worried about his ace, but only until he took the mound.
Zimmermann, a steady force in a rocky season, added to his all-star caliber first half with seven two-hit, eight-strikeout, scoreless innings that gave him his ninth win, tying him for the league lead. Their sagging offense finally took advantage when presented with back-of-the-rotation fodder, tagging Scott Diamond for seven runs, five of which scored in the fifth, just the second inning all year in which the Nationals batted around.
With two runners in scoring position and two outs in the second, Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire ordered Diamond, a left-hander, to walk Werth. Rather than face the right-handed hitter who had homered Saturday and already singled twice Sunday, Gardenhire loaded the bases for LaRoche instead.
The intentional walk sparked the Nationals’ highest-scoring inning of the year. LaRoche smacked a single off of second baseman Brian Dozier chest. Desmond roped a single to center. Rob Pressley relieved Diamond, and Rendon blistered a two-run double to right.
Meanwhile, Zimmermann ignored defensive lapses and sailed. After Rendon dropped a pop-up in the third, the right-hander struck out Ryan Doumit to end the inning. When third baseman Zimmerman’s 10th throwing error sailed high, Zimmermann induced a fly to left and a weak grounder to first. He never removed his poker face.
“Just keep pounding the strike zone, and hopefully they put another ball in play and give them another chance,” Zimmermann said. “I just want to give them another chance to get the confidence back.”
Zimmermann lowered his ERA to 2.00 and earned his ninth win. With his 111th and final pitch, he got Chris Colabello to swing through a 96-mph fastball. Zimmermann walked off the mound, his facial expression still stuck on neutral, not responding to raucous cheers.
Zimmermann’s brilliance had given the Nationals another moment to let them believe the worst is behind them. Their road ahead, starting with three games in Colorado, will determine whether Sunday was a springboard or another false sign.
“We’ll see Tuesday,” LaRoche said. “We’ll find out.”