In a nail-biting pitchers’ duel, it can come down to one pitch - and it usually is from a bullpen arm late in the game.
With the game tied in the bottom of the eighth, the Nationals got a man in scoring position for Ryan Zimmerman, who was able to square up a pitch from Cubs reliever Pedro Strop and deliver the go-ahead run in a 2-1 series-clinching victory.
“Slider is what I hit,” Zimmerman said. “The back end of their bullpen, they got some really good arms. The starter for them today was as advertised, was tough. With the way Jordan pitched, that was a game we needed to win.”
Zimmerman talked about Denard Span starting the inning by stretching a single into a double and jumpstarting a rally.
“It’s going to be close. I think it’s a good gamble, though,” Zimmerman said. “I think a double there obviously takes the inning in a completely different direction than just a single. Tony (Anthony Rendon) did a good job of hitting the ball to the right side. Walking Rochy (Adam LaRoche). He made a mistake and I put a good swing on it.”
Late in the game, manager Matt Williams opted to keep Zimmerman at third. In similar late-inning situations, Williams has put Zimmerman at first base for the final inning or two. Did Zimmerman know why Williams kept him at third this time?
“I don’t know. Like I said before, Anthony at third and Danny (Espinosa) at second is our best defensive alignment,” Zimmerman said. “I have no problem saying that. I think there are going to be times where he does that. That gives us the best chance to win late in the game with a couple run lead. I’m starting to feel a little bit better over there, but I’m still only a few games into it, so if he wants to do that, that’s completely fine by me.”
Williams intimated in his postgame news conference that Zimmerman was maybe not feeling 100 percent late in games so that is why they would put him at first to save his arm from long throws.
Ironically, Zimmerman ended up having to make two throws from third base on Sunday to earn two critical outs in the ninth.
“We don’t talk about it,” Zimmerman said of Williams and the possible late-inning defensive shifts. “He either does it or doesn’t. He makes the decisions. I don’t really lobby for anything either way. I think whatever he wants and whatever (he) thinks gives us the best chance to win. That’s his job and I think all of us in here respect that.”
Zimmermann allowed the Cubs at least one hit in every inning he pitched, but did not surrender a single run over 105 pitches. He said he was having trouble early locating his fastball.
“I felt OK. The fastball command wasn’t there really the whole game,” Zimmermann said. “I fell behind hitters early and wasn’t able to throw first-pitch strikes. Guys got on base and I had to work out a few jams. Other than that, I threw the ball well. The pitch count got up a little high on me and had to try to get some quick outs the last couple innings.
“After the third inning, I was trying to tell myself to at least make it through five. I think I had 90-some pitches through five and skip let me go out there and I had a pretty quick sixth inning. So it was good. I’m glad we got the win today.”
Zimmermann also had a chance to lay down a sacrifice bunt in the fifth inning with two men on, no outs and the Nationals leading 1-0. Instead, he bunted it foul on a third stike for a strikeout.
What is tough to do because it was Arrieta?
“No, not really, just botched him. Pretty much down the middle,” Zimmermann said. “I saw (Anthony) Rizzo over at first and he was way in. I was trying to make it too perfect down the third base line and bunted it foul.
“I should have been able to get it down.”
The win got the Nationals within a half-game of the Braves, who lost Sunday. Zimmerman knows it will be a back-and-forth challenge all season.
“It’s going to be a battle the whole season. They play us tough,” he said. “They’re a good team. It’s going to be a fun second half.”
The Nationals face the Orioles next for four big games. Zimmermann said he doesn’t see the Nationals getting any more pumped for this series than they would any other opponent.
“I think it’s the same,” Zimmermann said. “We do the same scouting report for every team. Those guys do a great job. We should have a pretty good scouting report on these guys. We’ll see what happens.”