Jordan Zimmermann returns, Washington Nationals beat St. Louis Cardinals on Ian Desmond's single in 13th

The Washington Nationals introduce the newest member of the organization, the 17-year-old, hard-hitting slugger Bryce Harper.
By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 27, 2010; 1:25 AM

For Jordan Zimmermann, one of the best parts about leaving the heat and solitude of Florida was the chance to be on a team. He loved pitching, sure, and recovering from Tommy John surgery robbed him of that. When he started making his first rehab starts in the minor leagues, it also let him be part of something again. "It was good to cheer on your teammates," Zimmermann said. "That's a big thing, too."

After his return to the major leagues ended in four uneven innings on Thursday, Zimmermann could sit back and cheer on his Washington Nationals teammates deep into the night. He watched their epic ninth-inning meltdown and the astonishing comeback that followed. He watched the Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals fight both attrition and each other. And he watched when, at 20 minutes to midnight, Ian Desmond, his old Class AA roommate, shot a ball past the pitcher and Nyjer Morgan ran home, both arms over his head.

Zimmermann stopped watching and joined his teammates at first base, mobbing Desmond and celebrating a marathon, 13-inning, walk-off 11-10 victory before 22,317 at Nationals Park. Manager Jim Riggleman used 22 of 25 players, and the game lasted 4 hours 35 minutes. By the end, John Lannan sat in the Nationals' bullpen, Albert Pujols had been walked intentionally three times and three starting pitchers had been used as pinch-hitters.

"It felt like [how] a baseball game was supposed to be played," Desmond said. "Everyone was playing hard. There was definitely a lot of emotion in it. I don't know what playoff baseball feels like, but I've got to imagine that's pretty close."

Better days on the mound lie ahead for Zimmermann, who on Thursday night pitched in the major leagues for the first time 399 days. But the work of the rest of the Nationals added to one of the happier days in recent memory. Zimmermann returned, Bryce Harper said hello and Nationals thumped Chris Carpenter. Those arhtrogram results for Stephen Strasburg could wait one day.

Zimmermann had his teammates to thank for salvaging his return. There was Roger Bernadina, who smoked a two-run home to tie it in ninth. There were relievers Craig Stammen and Joel Peralta, who teamed up to retire all nine batters they faced. There was Desmond, who went 4 for 7 with a two-RBI single in the third and won the game by beating out a routine grounder up the middle. There was Miguel Batista, who pitched two scoreless extra innings. There was the rest of the Nationals' offense, which pounded 16 hits and scored 11 runs in 13 innings after scoring five in its previous 36.

"The Cardinals are a great ballclub," Riggleman said. "They're fighting for everything now, and we competed very well with them. Just really proud of our ballplayers. Sometimes your most satisfying games are effort and intensity games, not as exciting as this game, when guys are playing hard for you all the time, and you really appreciate it. You feel good about the sacrifices players were making out there."

In the 13th, after the presidents had raced a second time, Blake Hawksworth entered and drilled Morgan. Ryan Zimmerman struck out looking, and Alberto Gonzalez lined a single to left-center, advancing Morgan to third. Up came Desmond.

"He's not a rookie anymore, man," Morgan said. "It's too late in the season."

The Cardinals drew the infield in. On third base, Morgan thought the Nationals might use a squeeze play. They called for a "contact" play - Morgan would bolt home on any hit. Desmond cracked a hard grounder up the middle; Morgan knew he'd score. The ball bounced off of Aaron Miles's glove. Desmond sprinted to first, finger held in the air. The longest game of the Nationals' season was over.

"No exhaustion," Desmond said. "We were ready to go 10 more if we had to."

Zimmermann used his entire arsenal and, as promised, his fastball still zipped at 94 mph. But he allowed five earned runs in four innings on a walk and seven hits, including the 400th home run of Pujols's career. Riggleman let Zimmermann work out of the fourth inning after the first six batters reached base.

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