Ryan Zimmerman’s homer in 16th inning caps the longest game in Nationals’ history

More than five hours after Tuesday’s game began, Miller Park nearly empty and only a handful of souls left to watch, Ryan Zimmerman’s monstrous swing mercifully put an end to the longest game in Washington Nationals history. Zimmerman’s two-run shot off reliever Mike Fiers in the top of the 16th inning, the first extra-inning home run of his career, gave the Nationals the runs they needed to finally get some sleep.

So much happened here on Tuesday night as it bled into Wednesday morning, enough to fill a short novel. Long after Jordan Zimmermann’s solid start in front of his home crowd, Anthony Rendon’s game-tying home run in the eighth, Ross Detwiler’s valiant four-inning appearance in relief and Denard Span’s game-saving catch in the 14th inning, Zimmerman hit the decisive home run to left field and Rafael Soriano notched his 18th save to power the Nationals to a 4-2 thrilling marathon win.

“It’s a lot better feeling when you win after being out there for five and a half hours,” Span said. “But everyone is exhausted.”

By the time the game ended, clocking in at 5 hours 22 minutes, the roof at Miller Park was closed. The Nationals were down to their last reliever, Soriano, and the Brewers were using relievers at the plate. Fifteen pitchers and 24 position players appeared in the game, 485 pitches were thrown and the teams combined for 111 at-bats. Although an Aug. 13, 2013, game lasted longer in terms of time, Tuesday’s game was the longest Nationals game in innings.

If the game was still tied in the 16th, first baseman Adam LaRoche would have been the first position player to pitch in the game.

“You lose a game like this, after everybody put their heart and soul into a game like this to try to win it, if you lose, coming out on the other side is never fun,” reliever Tyler Clippard said.

With tiring legs and worn arms, the Nationals were able to pull out the victory thanks to 10 scoreless innings from a dominant bullpen; the timely hitting of Rendon and Zimmerman and the maneuvering of Manager Matt Williams. The defense by Span, Zimmerman and Ian Desmond also proved pivotal. After putting Washington ahead in the top half of the 16th, Zimmerman made a stellar diving catch in left to rob a hit with Soriano on the mound.

Washington’s bullpen has been the best in baseball by many measures and Tuesday’s effort was a most impressive performance. After Zimmermann left the game following six innings of two-run ball, seven relievers combined to shut down the Brewers and give the Nationals’ offense a chance to win the game.

Relievers Jerry Blevins, Aaron Barrett, Craig Stammen, Drew Storen, Clippard, Soriano and Detwiler combined for 10 scoreless innings and only four hits. No performance, however, was more impressive and important than the four dominant innings provided by Detwiler. For much of the season, the starter-turned-reliever has been underwhelming, his ERA at 4.97 entering Tuesday night.

In his best and longest outing of the season, Detwiler kept his sinker low and provided relief to a bullpen that was running low on fresh arms. He allowed one hit, which he quickly erased in the 12th inning with a double play.

“Det was above and beyond,” Williams said. “Going in we had some guys that were feeling it so we didn’t want to go to them. Turned out we had to. Det was fantastic.” 

In the 13th inning, Detwiler allowed a leadoff single to Lyle Overbay. After a sacrifice bunt and groundout moved Overbay to third base. With two outs, Williams elected to walk the Brewers best all-around hitter, Jonathan Lucroy, to face sluggger Carlos Gomez. Williams wanted to avoid one of the National League’s best hitters and face a free-swinger. “We had to pick our poison there,” he said.

Detwiler knew Gomez would be aggressive so he threw a first-pitch sinker inside. He lined it to Desmond to end the threat. Detwiler walked off the mound pumping his fist and deservedly so. All 46 of Detwiler’s pitches were fastballs and it worked.

“It’s good to go out there and go as long as I can,” Detwiler said.

An inning later, Span made a difficult catch to prevent a walk-off win by Milwaukee. With one out and one on, Elian Herrera hit a long flyball to deep center field off Drew Storen. Span raced back and backhanded the ball at the wall. Those who remained at Miller Park thought the Brewers had a game-winning extra-base hit.

“As soon as the ball was hit, my first reaction is to run out there and go get it,” Span said. “I started to feel the wall close to me and I wanted to make sure I knew where the wall was and keep my eye on the ball.”

Jayson Werth ended the inning with a slick sliding catch in right field that could have easily fallen in between him and second baseman Danny Espinosa. The game seemed destined to never end.

“We’ve been pretty taxed down there but we wanted this win,” Clippard said.

The defensive play of Desmond also helped the Nationals keep the game tied late into the night. In the bottom of the 11th inning, Detwiler got Aramis Ramirez to roll over a sinker to the left side of the infield. The ball, however, was perfectly placed in between Desmond and Rendon. Desmond ranged far to his right and backhanded the ball.

And in one motion, he jumped up and threw a bullet across the diamond to first baseman Adam LaRoche. In the dugout, Desmond was congratulated by teammates, much like in the third inning when he made a similar jump-throw on a groundball deep in the hole for an out. “You can’t say enough about the game he had defensively,” Detwiler said.

For much of the game, the Nationals offense produced little. Trailing 2-1 in the eighth inning, Rendon faced tough left-handed reliever Will Smith, who entered with a 1.25 ERA this season. Rendon has fared well vs. left-handers. He got a fastball down the middle and drilled the ball over the right field fence, knotting the game at 2. It was his second game-tying home run in five days.

If not for Rendon’s homer, Zimmermann would have been saddled with a loss in front of many family members and friends. Nearly 100 people from his home town of Auburndale, about three hours outside of Milwaukee, came to the game and held a tailgate party outside Miller Park.

Zimmermann escaped a few jams, but allowed two runs in the fifth inning on a single by Ryan Braun. When he left the mound for the final time on Tuesday, the Nationals trailed 2-1. He scattered six hits and struck out nine. His ability to keep the potent Milwaukee lineup in check, however, gave the Nationals a chance to rally for the win, which they did many hours long after he departed.

From the eighth until Zimmerman’s home run, the Nationals went 3 for 24. Former Nationals left-handed relievers Zach Duke and Tom Gorzelanny combined for three scoreless innings against their former team. The Nationals squandered a fruitful chance with two runners on in the 14th inning.

Two innings later, the Nationals would finally break the tie. LaRoche hit a one-out single, setting the stage for Zimmerman’s blast.. It was his first home run since April 11(he missed 44 games with a broken thumb in between).

“It’s harder but you’re still out there trying to win a game,” he said. “These games are important. It seems that every year one team comes down to a play-in game or loses something by one game. As hard as it is to concentrate sometimes, you have to find a way.”

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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