ZZZZZZZZimmerman saves the day for Nats

ZZZZZZZZimmerman saves the day for Nats
June 25, 2014, 6:00 am
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If you couldn't stay up til the final out was recorded at 1:34 a.m. EDT — or if you simply gave up after your TV inexplicably switched to a tummy tuck infomercial in the 14th inning — you missed a heck of a ballgame in Milwaukee last night/this morning.

There were highlight-reel catches all over the place, gutsy managerial decisions, scoreless inning after scoreless inning churned out by the Nationals bullpen and ultimately the kind of late-night dramatics only Ryan Zimmerman can provide.

Oh, and we were one inning away from seeing Adam LaRoche pitching in a major-league ballgame. Blame Zim for denying everyone that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

LaRoche surely was willing to concede his shot at taking the mound in exchange for Zimmerman's 2-run homer in the top of the 16th, the blast that propelled the Nationals to a 4-2 victory over the Brewers in the franchise's longest game since it arrived in D.C. in 2005.

It was Zimmerman's first home run since April 11, the day before he broke his right thumb in Atlanta. Heck of a time to snap out of that funk.

For all the attention thrust upon Zimmerman's defensive abilities (or lack thereof) and what position he'll end up playing once Bryce Harper returns from the DL next week, there has been little discussion of the slugger's lack of production at the plate. Since rejoining the club June 3, Zimmerman had been hitting a scant .184 with a paltry .513 OPS.

Manager Matt Williams, though, said he liked some of the swings Zimmerman had been taking in recent days. And sure enough, those good swings eventually translated into an enormous hit just when the Nats needed it most.

And as if that wasn't enough, Zimmerman went and made a spectacular, diving catch in shallow left-center field in the bottom of the 16th, helping preserve the 2-run lead he created. Look, nobody has ever questioned his ability to catch a baseball, no matter the position. Whether he ends up back at third base, in left field or at first base, he'll remain one of the most-gifted glove men in the sport. His future home on the diamond depends solely on his ability to throw.

There was so much more to last night's game, though. Let's run through it all...

Anthony Rendon hit yet another game-tying homer late. The Nationals trailed 2-0 in the top of the eighth when Rendon smacked a pitch from Milwaukee's Will Smith over the fence in right-center. It was Rendon's 12 homer of the season; seven of them have either given the Nats the lead or tied the game, as this one did.

Ross Detwiler tossed four scoreless innings out of the bullpen. With the game going to extra innings and with only short relievers (Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano) left unused, Williams had no choice but to extract as much as he possibly could out of Detwiler. The left-hander responded with his best performance of the season, putting up four consecutive zeroes on 46 pitches (nearly every single one a fastball), all the while knowing one mistake could end the game on the spot.

The bullpen as a whole tossed 10 scoreless innings. After Jordan Zimmermann departed before the seventh, Jerry Blevins took over and kept the Brewers from pushing a run across the plate. Then Aaron Barrett did the same in the eighth. Then Craig Stammen did it in the ninth. Then Detwiler churned out his four innings. Then Storen pitched the 14th, Clippard pitched the 15th and Soriano pitched the 16th. Not one of them allowed a run. The Nationals also boasted baseball's best bullpen (2.47 ERA) entering this game. All they did was pad those stats even more, lowering that ERA to 2.36.

Denard Span and Jayson Werth made back-to-back, game-saving catches in the 14th. With a man on first and one out in the bottom of the 14th, Span ranged way toward right field, leaping to snag Elian Herrera's blast up against the wall. If the balls lands in the field of play, the lead runner comes all the way around from first and the Brewers celebrate in the middle of the diamond while the Nationals trudge off. Then moments later, Werth came charging in and made a shoestring, sliding catch of Jean Segura's sinking liner. A base hit there might not have ended the game, but Werth's catch ensured the Nats would have another chance in the 15th.

Adam LaRoche very nearly made his big-league pitching debut. Had Zimmerman not homered in the top of the 16th, or had Soriano given up the tying run, the Nationals would've been out of pitchers. Williams' choice at that point: Burn up a starter, or use a position player. It never came to it, but Williams told reporters afterward he would have pitched LaRoche in the 17th. The son of former major-league hurler Dave LaRoche, Adam LaRoche has long made it known he wants to pitch a game before his career is over. The situation very nearly presented itself last night, and that would've been must-see-TV if it happened.