Zimmerman's Hit Streak Reaches 30, but Nats Give Away Lead

By Steve Fainaru
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 13, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO, May 13 -- With 131 games left in the season, the Nationals are in danger of being reduced to little more than a sideshow: the one that Ryan Zimmerman produces each time he comes to the plate.

But at least they still have that.

Zimmerman extended his hitting streak to 30 before sundown here Tuesday night, while much of a largely oblivious crowd was still settling into its seats. The Nats then lost, 9-7, to the Giants, this one a total killer that, in the end, obliterated the good feeling of Zimmerman's streak and an unlikely comeback that had put the Nats one strike away from a win.

Left-hander Joe Beimel, trying to contain it all amid the mayhem, gave up a two-out, three-run homer to third baseman Pablo Sandoval into the left field seats, and all the Nats had to hang on to was Zimmerman, their 24-year-old third baseman, who is now just the seventh player of this decade to hold a 30-game hitting streak.

The Nats (10-21) are the worst team in baseball, and, in their second year at Nationals Park, they have the 29th lowest attendance out of Major League baseball's 30 teams. That makes today's game, against lefty Barry Zito, all the more critical, with the club hoping desperately that Zimmerman can carry his streak home Friday against the Phillies.

Zimmerman singled in his first two at-bats as the Nats settled into what appeared to be another typically desultory evening of baseball for the Washingtonians.

That lasted until the seventh, inning when, four runs down, Nick Johnson led the Nats back from the abyss. Johnson hit a three-run bomb off right-hander Matt Cain with two out in the seventh. He added a two-run ground-ball single in the eighth after Ronnie Belliard had tied it.

But ultimately the Nats had to turn it over to their combustible bullpen, and that is never good. Beimel, in a uniquely difficult role, entered in the ninth with a one-run lead. With two out, he walked Edgar Rentería, and hung what appeared to be a curve to Sandoval, whose on his previous at-bat had tripped over his own feet while trying to leg out a triple.

Nats right-hander Kip Wells entered to hold the lead in the bottom of the eighth. He threw one pitch, then gave up a booming solo homer to left to Bengie Molina.

Zimmerman increasingly seems like he's on an opposite trajectory from his struggling team.

If he is feeling pressure, however, it's not apparent. When he came up in the first, dusk was settling in, and much of the crowd was not yet seated. He worked the count to 1-1 and then drilled a Cain fastball into center field, extending the streak to a largely oblivious stadium.

In the fourth, Cain threw him a back-breaking curve, and Zimmerman again bashed it past the pitcher's outstretched glove into center field. Adam Dunn followed with a towering drive to right-center field. The ball bounced off right fielder Nate Schierholtz's glove at the fence. Zimmerman then tagged up on a hard Willie Harris line drive to right, coming across the plate with a head first slide.

Jordan Zimmermann was touched for six runs in the first inning of his last start against the Dodgers. Nats manager Manny Acta decided to leave him in, and he responded with six shutout innings while Washington came behind to win 11-9 in the most riveting win of the season. Tuesday night started as more of the same, with the Giants jumping on Zimmermann for two runs.

Zimmermann buried himself that inning, first drilling Rentería with a pitch and then walking Molina before Randy Winn doubled both runners home. In the fourth, Zimmermann, throwing smoke, albeit erratically, gave up three more in the fourth, the killer blow a two-out Rentería punch single to right.

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