Nationals' day starts well and then ends well

Nyjer Morgan scores the winning run and is greeted by Roger Bernadina. Jordan Zimmermann started his first game of the year.
Nyjer Morgan scores the winning run and is greeted by Roger Bernadina. Jordan Zimmermann started his first game of the year. (Jonathan Newton)
By Adam Kilgore
Friday, August 27, 2010

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, 20 minutes to midnight, Ian Desmond 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 of the game, 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.

Better days on the mound lie ahead for Zimmermann, who on Thursday night pitched in the major leagues for the first time 399 days and 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-run single in the third and won the game by beating out a routine grounder up the middle. 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.

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, and the Cardinals drew the infield in. Desmond cracked a hard grounder up the middle, and it bounced off of Aaron Miles's glove. Desmond sprinted to first, finger held in the air.

The Nationals nearly ended the game in the 12th. Willie Harris and pinch-hitter Wil Nieves - the last position player left on Riggleman's bench - both drew two-out walks off Fernando Salas.

Adam Kennedy followed with a flare to shallow center. Harris raced from second. Ryan bolted toward the ball and made a diving, game-saving, snow-cone catch.

The play merely delayed a memory.

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