By Sam Bush
Ryan Zimmerman scorched a single into center field, the pivotal blow in the Nationals’ 5-3, 10-inning victory over the Phillies. The 24th game-winning RBI of his career to come in the eighth inning or later kept Nationals tied with the Atlanta Braves atop the National League East.
“He’s been clutch his whole career,” said Stephen Strasburg, who allowed two runs in 5 2 / 3 innings. “He’s had to overcome some adversity that not too many guys have to go through. He’s the ultimate professional. He’s handled it great. He’s just going to go out there and do whatever he can to help the team win every day.”
Former Phillie Jayson Werth (photo above), who drove home the Nationals’ first three runs, scored on Diekman’s ensuing wild pitch to extend the Nationals’ lead to two runs. Rafael Soriano made mincemeat of the Phillies in a 1-2-3 bottom of the 10th, notching his 22nd save and lowering his ERA under 1.00.
The Nationals entered the bottom of the sixth inning leading 3-0, and in total command. But Strasburg waned in the sixth and Tyler Clippard faltered in the eighth as the Phillies tied the score at 3 on Ben Revere’s single, nearly knocking the Nationals into second place before Washington rallied in the 10th.
Ross Detwiler’s perfect ninth inning pushed the game into extra innings. Denard Span sparked the rally with a walk against Diekman, a flame-throwing left-hander who sprays pitches with the accuracy of the Phanatic’s hot dog gun. Werth moved ahead in the count, 3-0, and with a left-hander hitting behind him, tried to dictate the outcome himself. But hit a chopper to second.
“The fact that he doesn’t command his pitches makes him even nastier,” Werth said. “I swung at a 3-0 heater right down the middle at 99. It had a little sink on it. When you swing 3-0, the whole idea is to not get beat. And I got beat.”
Chase Utley tried to get the lead runner rather than taking the out. Span slid in ahead of his rushed flip, and the Nationals had a threat. Adam LaRoche struck out, which left the inning to Zimmerman.
“The sequences and the pitches he threw to the hitters before, he didn’t really have any pattern. He threw Rochie, I think, all offspeed and one fastball. I really didn’t know what to expect. I haven’t faced him much, either.”
Zimmerman watched one fastball and fouled off another. He felt like he took a good hack. Zimmerman sat on a fastball — if he had looked for an offspeed pitch, he never would have caught up to a heater.
Diekman rifled a fastball that had the stadium’s radar guns on high alert. Zimmerman smoked it to center field. Span darted home. As he rounded first, Zimmerman pointed at the Nationals dugout.
“I think in those situations, I’ve been in a lot of them, and the biggest thing I try to do is keep it simple and not try to do too much,” Zimmerman said. “Some people try to drive the ball, or some people try to hit home runs. That’s when you get yourself in trouble. You’ve just got to try to make good contact, try and hit the ball up the middle and hopefully good things will happen.”
Diekman then threw a fastball in the dirt with Desmond at the plate that bounded away from catcher Cameron Rupp, and Werth scampered home to give the Nationals a 5-3 lead.
Werth scored the final run, and he drove in the first three. Anthony Rendon led off the sixth with a walk, and Werth followed. Since Werth signed with the Nats in 2011 he and left-hander Cole Hamels have engaged in several epic confrontations, and Saturday night provided one more.
“You play with somebody as long we did, meaningful games, games in October, win a World Series, those bonds, I don’t know what you call that,” Werth said. “It’s not really a friend. But we’ll have a common bond for our whole life, you know? But it’s fun to compete against those guys. I feel like I know them inside and out. And they probably feel the same way. It’s fun. It’s challenging.”
Werth fell behind in the count, 0-2. He took a close fastball for a ball and took a cutter in the dirt. Hamels tried to finish him off with a 95-mph fastball. Werth crushed it over the out-of-town scoreboard in right field.
“I hit a lot of homers to right field here,” Werth said. “I kind of made my money hitting homers to right field here.”
Boos cascaded from the seats as Werth circled the bases. A fan chucked the ball back into play. Werth, who had hit his fifth homer in a span of 37 plate appearances, could not have cared less.
“I barely even hear it,” Werth said. “I notice it, but it’s way in the background. It doesn’t really have any bearing on my game. I will say, the first time I ever got a really good ‘Werth-less’ chant going was my sophomore year in high school, in a basketball game. I poured in 35 that night. So I’m always up for a good ‘Werth-less’ chant.”