Washington Nationals beat San Diego Padres, 6-5, on Ryan Zimmerman's walk-off homer

Ryan Zimmerman passes the Padres' Adrian Gonzalez on his way to bringing home the winning run.
Ryan Zimmerman passes the Padres' Adrian Gonzalez on his way to bringing home the winning run. (John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)
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By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman share the left side of the Washington Nationals' infield, but they occupy separate spheres of a baseball career. Ryan Zimmerman is a reigning all-star trying to prove he belongs in this year's showcase. Desmond is a rookie trying to prove he belongs in the major leagues.

On Tuesday night, Desmond's exuberance and Zimmerman's supremacy created the Nationals' 6-5 victory over the San Diego Padres. First, Desmond atoned for a crucial eighth-inning error by throwing out the go-ahead run at home plate in the top of the ninth. Next, Zimmerman led off the bottom of the ninth by crushing a game-winning home run -- his second of the night -- to dead center off of Luke Gregerson.

Before 14,039 at Nationals Park, Washington had its third straight win in a walk-off. In stifling heat -- the 99-degree first-inning temperature made it the hottest home game since baseball returned to Washington -- the Nationals received contributions from all over their roster. Liván Hernández allowed four runs on nine hits in seven-plus innings. Michael Morse went 3 for 4 with a double and a two-RBI single.

For Zimmerman, it was old hat. The game-winner was the sixth walk-off home run of his career and the 11th game-ending RBI. In his last two games, both played since his name was added to the final vote, the list of five players who can be voted on by fans to be the final member of each league's all-star team, Zimmerman is 6 for 9 with three home runs, a double and a walk.

On Tuesday, he fell behind Gregerson 0-1. The next pitch, a fastball over the plate and away, Zimmerman smoked to straightaway center. Unlike his blast to left in the fourth inning, Zimmerman was not sure if this one would cross the fence. Tony Gwynn Jr. leaped at the fence and stretched his glove over the wall. The effort only gave him a better view to watch the game end. Zimmerman circled the bases and pig-piled with his teammates.

"He's unbelievable," Hernández said. "Everybody knows he's one of the best players in the league. This is what he do."

While he admitted he'd like to return to the All-Star Game, Zimmerman could joke when asked about the incentive to win the vote. "Oh, yeah," Zimmerman said, his voice soaked in playful sarcasm. "I was just waiting for it so I could get hot."

For Desmond, Tuesday's game was redemption. In the eighth, Desmond's 21st error of the season tied the score. Tyler Clippard had already turned a 5-2 game into a 5-4 nail-biter. With men on first and second and one out, Sean Burnett induced a potential 4-6-3 double play. Cristian Guzmán's lousy feed meant the prudent play for Desmond would have been to hold the ball and ensure the runner at second stayed put. Instead, he threw. The ball sailed wide of Adam Dunn. The game was tied.

"That's just me, I guess," Desmond said. "It's really hard for me to say, 'No, don't make the play.' That's something I'm going to have learn up here."

Said Zimmerman: "He's very, very talented, and he thinks he can get every one out, which is a good thing. He'll learn when not to throw balls, when to throw balls. It's going to be part of the stuff we have to go through with him. I think it's way more worth it to have him out there."

In the ninth, that exuberance paid off. With two outs, Josh Willingham tracked down Scott Hairston's double off Matt Capps at the left field wall. Desmond drifted past shallow left field and closer to Willingham.

"I trust my arm," Desmond said. "I'd rather be a little further out there and rely on my arm."

Third base coach Glenn Hoffman windmilled Jerry Hairston, Scott's brother, home as Willingham fired to Desmond. He caught the ball about 150 feet from home and skipped a perfect one-hop throw to Iván Rodríguez. He corralled the throw and lunged at Jerry Hairston, applying the tag with his glove and shielding him with his right arm.

Desmond had also given the Nationals a cushion with a fifth-inning solo home run against Clayton Richard, his fifth home run and first since May 28 -- also off Richard. With his recent spasm of production, Desmond has pulled himself out of a dismal slump. From June 15 to June 25, he went 2 for 31. On June 30, Manager Jim Riggleman left him out of the starting lineup for consecutive games for the first time all season, and Desmond knew why. "I haven't really been getting it done," he said then.

Following his two-game hiatus on the bench, Desmond has gone 7 for 17 with two doubles and a home run. Desmond felt opposing pitchers had adjusted to him and found his weaknesses. He needed to make his own adjustment, he said. It seems that he has.

"Ian's a fighter," Morse said. "Ian doesn't take anything to heart. That's what a good young player does. It just lets yourself remind you that, 'You know what? I'm a good player. I belong here.' "

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