Washington Nationals rally to edge New York Mets, 2-1, in bottom of ninth

Willie Harris brings home the winning run on Ryan Zimmerman's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth.
Willie Harris brings home the winning run on Ryan Zimmerman's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth. (John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)
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By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 2, 2010

The long slog of a baseball season melds the weeks and months together, and it makes the turning of a calendar meaningless unless you trick yourself into thinking it is not. The Washington Nationals are trying to trick themselves. In June, "we played like crap pretty much," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "We've got to put that behind, start over new."

For most of Thursday night, it seemed the Nationals would waste another sparkling pitching performance and feel the sting of another dispiriting loss. But with Zimmerman's walk-off sacrifice fly capping a 2-1 victory over the New York Mets, the Nationals, in their first game of July, reversed the hellish trends that led to the majors' second-worst record in June.

Before 20,167 at Nationals Park, Washington's Liván Hernández dueled Johan Santana to a draw for seven innings, Nyjer Morgan drove in the game-tying run and the defense played a third straight errorless game. After Zimmerman finished it off, the Nationals could convince themselves Thursday was the start of something.

"We're going to get hot," Hernández said. "We're going to win a lot of games."

Willie Harris -- the man his teammates sometimes call "The Met Killer" for his history of clutch plays against them -- sparked the winning rally in the ninth with a one-out, six-pitch walk against left-handed sidewinder Pedro Feliciano. Morgan came to the plate knowing he'd bunt for a hit, and he trickled a single to the right side. Cristian Guzmán smoked a line drive single to left, too hard for Harris to risk running immediately or trying to score.

The Nationals had what they wanted, anyway -- Zimmerman up with a chance to win the game. The Mets summoned Ryota Igarashi from the bullpen and shifted their defense to put five men in the infield and two in the outfield, one in center and one in right. Zimmerman had never seen the defense before while at the plate.

"Hit it in the air," Zimmerman thought.

Zimmerman drove a 2-0 pitch to deep right. Jeff Francoeur backpedaled and settled under it. His strong throw ventured slightly up the third base line, and Harris slid home safely. The Nationals mobbed Zimmerman at first base, celebrating their third walk-off win this season.

It started with Hernández. He allowed only one run -- the very first batter of the game scored -- on seven hits and no walks while striking out a season-high seven batters. The opponent made his success sweeter. This season against the Mets, the team that released him midway through last season, Hernández has allowed three earned runs in 20 innings, a 1.35 ERA.

"I'm not that kind of guy," Hernández said. "You do what you've got to do. I don't like it. I don't feel good when they do that to me. I don't bring that to mound. I try to pitch my game."

Santana matched him, and the Nationals still had not scored into the seventh. Since their tailspin began May 15, the Nationals, entering Thursday night, had gone 14-30 despite a 3.76 ERA from their pitching, the third-worst record and the sixth-best ERA in the majors over that span. It seemed they would squander another gem.

Ian Desmond led off the seventh with a single through the right side. He had led off the fifth with a long smash to left-center, and off his bat it appeared he had crushed a deep home run. Desmond jogged as he reached first base, and when the wind blocked the ball and it crashed into the top of the fence and fell back to the field, Desmond settled for a double.

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