ST. LOUIS - It's been a bit of a rough 24 hours for the Nationals.
They were eliminated from postseason contention last night, and tonight, they came within an out of being the first D.C. team to be no-hit since 1966.
Ryan Zimmerman saved the Nats from that distinction with his infield hit with two outs in the top of the ninth, a chopper that deflected off Cardinals starter Michael Wacha's glove. Shortstop Pete Kozma's throw to first was just wide of the bag, and Zimmerman evaded Matt Adams' sweep tag to reach base safely.
Wacha struck out nine, and it took until his 112th pitch for the Nats to finally record a hit off of the 22-year-old righty.
"He pitched great," Zimmerman said. "That was the first time we've seen him. He had his stuff going tonight. Luckily, I got a hit at the end to kind of ruin it. You can't really take away how he pitched."
"I was just using my blazing speed," Zimmerman then deadpanned. "Trying to get there as fast as I can."
The Nationals were within reach of the Cardinals all night, so their focus throughout the game was more on evening the score than busting Wacha's no-hit bid. But as time went on and Wacha got closer and closer to history, the Nats started viewing things a little differently.
"We're trying to win that ballgame and then you get in the ninth inning and then it's just, 'Let's get a hit and not be on the highlights for the next 10 years,' " Adam LaRoche said. "So Zim bailed us out."
Despite the way that the Nats have been pushed around by the Cardinals lately (they've lost all five matchups between the teams this season after falling to St. Louis in the NLDS last year) and despite the way their postseason hopes ended last night, Zimmerman says the Nats wouldn't have been too crushed had they been no-hit tonight.
It does make it a little easier to put this loss behind them, though.
"Nobody wants to get no-hit. It happens, though," Zimmerman said. "It's not something that's never happened before. Sometimes, the other guy is just really good. He was really good tonight. You don't want to get no-hit, so it's nice to break it up. As far as extra adrenaline, things like that, I usually don't get too hyped up for anything. But it was cool to have the crowd standing. The atmosphere, that was like a big-time playoff atmosphere, which is what we like to play in."
Wacha was locked in early, retiring the first 14 batters he faced before second baseman Matt Carpenter booted a routine grounder off LaRoche's bat, resulting in an error that gave the Nats their first baserunner. They then got the leadoff runner on in both the seventh and eighth innings via walks, but weren't able to turn that into anything.
Wacha leaned heavily on his four-seam fastball that sat 94-97 mph and touched 98, and his changeup was excellent tonight, especially to left-handed hitters. All-Star catcher Yadier Molina kept the Nats off-balance throughout the night, like when he called four straight changeups in an at-bat against Zimmerman after Zimmerman had already gotten into a hitter's count at 2-0.
"He had that changeup that he was throwing in all counts and throwing it really hard and somehow commanding it," LaRoche said. "And usually you got a guy who has one that hard, he doesn't usually have that good of control of it, and he did tonight. Looked really good.
"I haven't seen him throw (prior to tonight). I don't know if that's routine for him, that kind of dominance or not. But it helps when you've got Yadi behind the plate, too. Knows what he's doing, and I don't know that he had to shake off hardly at all tonight, so they were on the same page."
After Steve Lombardozzi grounded out to open the top of the ninth, Denard Span got into an eight-pitch battle with Wacha, fouling off three pitches and working the count full before striking out on a changeup on the outer half.
"Honestly, for whatever reason, it took me until my last at-bat to realize he was working fast and he was rushing some of us," Span said. "That's why I called timeout (before a pitch), because I looked up and he was already ... he's rushing my timing, rushing my flow. He's trying to throw my timing off, so let me call timeout and take a breath, take my time. And I wound up drawing it to 3-2. But he pitched good. He made a good pitch 3-2, threw me a nasty changeup, struck me out."
One pitch later, Zimmerman tapped a ball just over Wacha's head, and the no-no was gone.
"That's baseball. Baseball is weird," Zimmerman said.