FRIDAY'S LATE GAME

It's Another Happy Ending for the Nats

Ryan Zimmerman charges the ball to make a play in the fifth inning against Albert Pujols. It was a play he didn't make that upset the third baseman.
Ryan Zimmerman charges the ball to make a play in the fifth inning against Albert Pujols. It was a play he didn't make that upset the third baseman. (Photos By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 5, 2007

Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

He pumped his right fist, and then waited for the pummeling to come. Ryan Zimmerman is accustomed enough to providing the Washington Nationals with game-ending victories that he knows what follows. Shots to the ribs. Punches to the chest. Slaps to the head.

"I was ready tonight," Zimmerman said afterward. "I had my gloves up and everything tonight."

Over the past two seasons, there is no player in baseball who has provided more moments like Zimmerman did Friday night, when he lined a single into left field to score Felipe Lopez from second in the bottom of the ninth inning, giving the Nationals a 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals at RFK Stadium.

If such moments have grown passe for Zimmerman -- four months into his second full season, but with five such game-enders at RFK thus far -- he doesn't show it. After he rounded first, with losing pitcher Ryan Franklin walking toward the dugout, he watched Lopez coming at him, followed by the stream of Nationals.

Right-hander Tim Redding had provided Washington with another unexpectedly solid start. Pinch hitter Tony Batista had started the winning rally with a single. Ronnie Belliard had kept things alive in the ninth, following Lopez's fielder's choice with a bloop single to right, putting Lopez in scoring position.

But they were all coming for Zimmerman. Those five hits that left the other team on the field are tied for the most in baseball -- with Minnesota's Justin Morneau -- since the start of 2006. Indeed, he even had a bases-loaded walk to beat Arizona last September, another way to win a game. So Zimmerman, more than any National, should be prepared for the onslaught teammates provide for a hero.

"He has done some dramatic stuff since he's been up here," Manager Manny Acta said. "I think he doesn't get rattled when that situation comes up. I think that's what he has shown here the last two years."

Because he showed it Friday night, the Nationals won their fourth straight, matching a season high. And they are doing it under some absurd circumstances. Consider that Redding -- who threw 6 1/3 innings and allowed one run -- is now a more-than serviceable part of the rotation.

How unlikely is that? In 17 appearances for Class AAA Columbus, he posted a 5.32 ERA. Friday night, in his sixth major league start this season, his ERA dropped to 2.43.

"I'd like to just think it's a progression," Redding said. "I haven't gotten better. Everything's been pretty much the same."

Throw Redding in with lefty Mike Bacsik, whose ERA since the all-star break is 2.05, and rookies John Lannan and Joel Hanrahan, who have been composed in their starts thus far, and think of the issue Washington will have on its hands in the coming weeks. General Manager Jim Bowden said he has too many starters he would like to see over the past season's final two months. Right-handers Shawn Hill and Jason Bergmann are almost certain to return from injuries, and right-hander John Patterson said this week that he believes he will, too. Throw in a possible appearance from first-round pick Ross Detwiler, and the possibilities -- so bleak for so much of the year -- are suddenly intriguing.


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