Game in a nutshell: The Nationals' 2012 season will extend to at least a 163rd game. And if you don't think that's significant, you don't fully appreciate the mostly sad history of Washington baseball. With a victory in the first half of today's doubleheader against the Dodgers, the Nats secured their 90th win of the season and lowered their magic number for clinching a playoff berth to 1. Another win tonight would officially secure at least the Wild Card, but even in the absolute, worst-case scenario, the Nationals know they could do no worse than tie for the final Wild Card berth and thus guarantee at least a tiebreaker game the day after the regular season ends. How did they pull off this victory? They got a quality start out of Jordan Zimmermann, even though the right-hander labored through much of his six innings. They scored three runs, even though none was plated via a base hit. And they got some shutdown work out of their bullpen, with Sean Burnett, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard recording some big outs down the stretch to secure the win that put the Nationals within one step of the postseason.
Hitting highlight: Who says you need to come through with clutch hits to produce runs? The Nationals disproved that theory in this game, scoring all three of their runs on outs. Kurt Suzuki lofted a sacrifice fly to bring home Michael Morse in the bottom of the second. Ryan Zimmerman scored Bryce Harper with a fifth-inning groundout to second base. And Tyler Moore tapped a slow roller to the right side in the sixth, bringing Ian Desmond home. The Nationals don't usually play "small ball," but in this case they showed some nice ability to produce productive outs, a skill that absolutely helped them earn their 90th win of the season.
Pitching highlight: He was by no means in peak form, but Zimmermann did manage to get the job done. The right-hander put eight of the first 16 batters he faced on base yet allowed only one run. He got better as his start progressed, and made some big pitches when he needed them, ultimately throwing 106 of them over his six innings. Zimmermann has struggled sometimes when working on extra rest, actually feeling too strong and thus losing the sink on his sinker. That might well have been the case today, because he was actually pitching on seven days' rest instead of the usual four, thanks to two off-days and last night's rainout. In the end, the Nationals happily took the quality start they got out of Zimmermann, who certainly needed one.
Key stat: Harper's fifth-inning triple represented his 49th extra-base hit of the season. That's now the most ever hit in a major-league season by a teenager.
Up next: Don't go anywhere, folks. Game 2 begins in 30 minutes. John Lannan takes the mound trying to improve to 4-0, with Josh Beckett hurling for the Dodgers.