Bullpen finally able to flex its muscle as Nationals survive Game 4

Through three games of the best-of-five National League Division Series, the Nationals’ bullpen was used early and taxed late. You got the feeling that the relief crew really didn’t get to show what it was really made of after 27 innings.

But in Game 4, that all changed. Eight strikeouts in three innings effectively capped the St. Louis offense with the score tied.

And it helped lead to a 2-1 Nationals win over the Cardinals, as Washington survives to play another day. Game 5 is set for Friday night with the winner taking on the Giants in the National League Championship Series.

The relief dominance began with an unlikely wild card: Starter Jordan Zimmermann came on in the seventh and struck out the side.

“Our honorary bullpen member of the day, Jordan Zimmermann, did an unbelievable job,” said Drew Storen. “He came out and attacked guys.”

In the eighth, Tyler Clippard struck out three hitters with just one walk.

Then, with the game tied, Storen notched three outs with a pair of strikeouts. That set the stage for a Jayson Werth solo homer and the Nationals were back in the series with a 2-1 victory.

“It feels good because that was a dogfight right there,” Storen said. “It was a well-played game all around and every good playoff game, it comes down to one pitch.”

Storen said it was a unique ninth inning, because he wasn’t stepping in to finish off the game but to hold it at 1-1.

“Tie games are weird, especially in the ninth,” Storen said. “You just kind of simplify it and know that you just got to get three outs. It doesn’t have to be pretty, just get three and give your offense a chance to do something.”

Clippard said Zimmermann deserved credit for coming into his first major league game out of the bullpen and keeping the game at 1-1.

“He came in the seventh, a little bit out of character, not used to coming in as a reliever, and he just blew the doors off of them,” Clippard said. “It was fun to watch. I was happy to get in there in the eighth and do my thing and then Drew shut him down in the ninth and J-Dub (Werth) did his thing.”

Clippard said the emotion of the raucous crowd of 44,392 and the importance of the moment was electric. That drove him on the mound.

“It was nervous, exciting, all the emotions you could think of,” Clippard said. “It was one of those special games that I felt privileged to be a part of. It was a lot of fun.”

Zimmermann agreed that with Nats Park jumping, he was able to feed off of the fans.

“The crowd was into it and they were going crazy and that pumped me up a little bit so I guess I got to thank them,” he said.

But he also said he is not likely to petition manager Davey Johnson to become a full-time reliever.

“It is definitely different and it is tough,” Zimmermann said. “I don’t think I want to do that for the rest of my life. I don’t know how long my arm will hang on, but it was definitely a fun experience.”

Zimmermann did confirm he would pitch if needed in Game 5.

“I am ready for anything. Whatever he needs I will be ready. Hopefully, Gio (Gonzalez) goes nine and we don’t have to worry about that.”

But the way Zimmermann pitched in the seventh and the emotion he displayed, teammate Ryan Zimmerman noticed.

“I was more excited about the fist pump after (the outing),” Zimmerman said of Zimmermann. “I have never seen him do anything. I told him he is a different pitcher out of the bullpen. He is all emotional. He is going to have to grow facial hair or something like that.”

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