BALTIMORE - Facing the Orioles, pitching in Camden Yards, things can get ugly in a hurry.
Case in point: The seventh inning of tonight's ballgame.
A 6-3 Nationals' lead became a 9-6 deficit seemingly in the blink of an eye. Jordan Zimmermann looked to be in good shape when the bottom of the seventh inning began, having thrown just 75 pitches to that point. You give the ball to Zimmermann with a three-run lead in that situation 100 times, and he probably gets the job done 95 of them. Not tonight, though.
Zimmerman gave up a leadoff single to Ryan Flaherty, then Steve Pearce crushed a two-run homer to cut the Nats' lead to one. Nate McLouth followed with an infield single, and Manny Machado's RBI double tied the game and set the Camden Yards crowd into hysterics. That was it for Zimmermann, who left the mound having failed to notch an out in the seventh.
"I only faced four batters in the seventh. It did happen quick, and I look up and we're losing," Zimmermann said. "Those guys give me six runs like that, I've got to do a better job and we should win this ballgame.
"It's solely on me, this one. I'll come back in five days and be ready to go."
This was Zimmermann's worst outing of the season, and by a vast margin. He allowed seven runs, more than doubling his previous season-high, surrendered 10 hits and allowed three homers.
"I just left some balls over the middle, and they're a good-hitting ballclub," he said. "Early on, I mean, all game, I guess, I felt like I wasn't getting ahead of the guys. Falling behind, and then I have to battle to get back into a good count. They made me pay tonight.
"I just try to pitch my game and throw strikes and make them put it in play, but a few of the balls went out, I thought they were routine pop-ups and they kept going. Can't really do much about that. Can't really change your game to pitch to a small ballpark."
Zimmermann said he felt his curveball was his best pitch tonight, but he didn't throw it much. He didn't have great location with his fastball, and it hurt him. The home run Zimmermann allowed to Pearce in the seventh came on a hanging slider on the inner-half.
"I thought it was a routine flyball and then I saw (Tyler Moore) drifting and it got to the track and it kept going," Zimmermann said. "I think some of their numbers are a little escalated because of the ballclub, but they're a good-hitting ballclub. Got to tip your hat to them."
Tyler Clippard came on to relieve Zimmermann with the game tied 6-6 and Machado on second with nobody out. Three pitches into his outing, Clippard gave up a go-ahead RBI single to Nick Markakis. Two batters later, Chris Davis crushed an 0-2 changeup out to right, giving the O's a three-run lead they wouldn't surrender.
"I'm trying to use his aggressiveness to my advantage," Clippard said of his approach to Davis. "I know he doesn't want a walk right there, and I did that the first two pitches. I felt like I expanded the zone well 0-0. 0-2, I'm trying to get that changeup out of the zone. I just left it up, and it was off the plate by a hair, but not enough, and that's on me, I just didn't execute the pitch like I needed to."
When Clippard came on, the 39,129 in attendance were going nuts, and the Orioles had tilted the momentum completely to their side. It's a tough environment to come into, but Clippard is used to that type of scene on the road.
"It's never easy," Clippard said. "Obviously for us, as relievers coming into a situation like that, it's up to us to kind of stop that momentum. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to do that tonight."