Late-inning roller coaster ends with Nats on top

The message from multiple guys in the Nationals’ clubhouse after today’s 3-2 extra-inning win over the Reds was the same: It’s too bad we couldn’t finish this one off for Gio.

Gio Gonzalez pitched seven exceptional innings in his debut at Nationals Park, allowing just two hits and no runs, but even though the Nationals held a 2-0 lead entering the ninth inning, they were unable to get the left-handed starter his first win of the season.

“Just an outstanding effort,” manager Davey Johnson said, “and unfortunately we didn’t save it for him.”

Davey Johnson meets with the media following the Nats’ 10-inning win over the Reds

Things got interesting in the ninth inning for the Nationals, when reliever Brad Lidge, on trying to record his second save, allowed a one-out walk to Joey Votto and then a double to Scott Rolen, which put the potential game-tying run in scoring position.

After Johnson called for an intentional walk of Jay Bruce, Reds left fielder Ryan Ludwick hit a ground ball down the third-base line. The ball could have been backhanded by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who then might have had a shot at a game-ending double play, or could have at least tagged the third base bag and maintained the Nats’ lead. It would have been a tough play, but a play the Gold Glover is accustomed to making.

Instead, the ball eluded Zimmerman’s glove, and two runs scored to tie the game. It marked the third rough play of the game for Zimmerman at third, as he was credited with a two-base throwing error in the third inning and then allowed a Wilson Valdez chopper to get by him in the eighth for a double.

“That play and the Valdez play, those are plays that I expect myself to make, and I hope my teammates expect me to make that as well,” Zimmerman said. “They’re not routine plays, but they’re plays that I think I should make. I need to do a better job of that and help Brad and those guys out. Then we’re not even in the situation we’re in at the end.”

For his part, Lidge said he deserves the bulk of the blame for the runs coming across.

“I think it comes back to me executing the pitch better,” the veteran reliever said. “That’s not his fault, the baserunners were my fault.”

Zimmerman’s miscue of sorts could have been immediately forgotten a half-inning later, when the Nats loaded the bases with only one out. But instead of walking off with a win in the ninth, Washington was forced to head to extras when Danny Espinosa grounded into a 1-2-3 double play to end the frame.

“I expect us to get some hits, but with runners in scoring position, we haven’t done that as well as we’re capable of doing,” Johnson said.

Craig Stammen shut the Reds down - hard - by striking out the side in the top of the 10th, throwing 10 pitches, nine of which were strikes. That turned things back to the Nationals’ bats, and they came through, albeit unconventionally.

Washington got the go-ahead run to third base with just one out when Zimmerman was hit by a pitch, moved to second on a Jayson Werth single and then advanced to third on Xavier Nady’s ground out.

Then, when Reds reliever Alfredo Simon uncorked a ball in the dirt, Zimmerman took off and slid into home with the winning run.

“I was kind of heads up, got a good read and went for it,” Zimmerman said.

The run gave the Nats a walk-off win and a 5-2 record, good for first in the NL East.

“We had to have something go our way,” Johnson said. “We hit a couple balls hard up the middle - the double play ball that Espi hit back there, that gets by him, that’s game over. We needed a break and we got one there.”

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