Ringing out the old the other night got the MASN staff in the mood to set the wayback machine to some dates well in advance of the Nationals’ current perch on the Major League Baseball throne. Some of them, in fact, reach back to the club’s inaugural season in the District.
While the Nats teams of the oughts and early teens didn’t experience the level of success the 2019 version enjoyed, they each had talented players and could show flashes of brilliance on the diamond. Through it all, of course, Ryan Zimmerman has seen all the ups and downs of the franchise’s 15 years in D.C. The Nationals’ first-ever draft choice figures prominently in this next bunch of “Nationals Classics,” and you’ll see him doing what he does best: snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Mr. Walk-Off shows us in more than one of these telecasts why he got that nickname.
You’ll also see some quick thinking on the basepaths and a better-than-we-could-have-dreamed debut of another Nat stalwart.
So grab a little hair of the New Year’s dog, settle back and enjoy.
Thursday, Jan. 2 - 12:30 p.m. - On July 4, 2011, the Nationals declared their independence from the home run ball, winning instead with singles, an RBI grounder, a bases-loaded walk, a stolen base and a wild pitch against the Cubs (who likewise did not leave the yard). Laynce Nix was the only National with more than one hit that day, but Jayson Werth was the big hero in the victory. In the bottom of the 10th inning with the score knotted at 4-4, Werth coaxed a base on balls from Marcos Mateo, took second on a sacrifice bunt from Liván Hernández (pinch-hitting for fellow pitcher Henry Rodríguez, who got the win), swiped third and then scored the game-winner when Carlos Mármol’s 2-2 pitch missed the target.
Friday, Jan. 3 - 7 p.m. - Some guys just know how to make an entrance. When the Nationals took right-hander Stephen Strasburg with the first overall pick in the 2009 draft, some critics predicted the San Diego State product would never live up to the hype that accompanied his arrival in Washington. But in his very first major league start, Strasburg gave Nationals fans reason to believe. On June 8, 2010, he struck out 14 batters in seven innings as the Nats beat the Pirates 5-2. Zimmerman and Adam Dunn each went 3-for-4. Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps each pitched a scoreless frame to wrap up the victory.
Saturday, Jan. 4 - 7:30 p.m. - Over the course of his 15-year career, Zimmerman has made a habit of collecting game-ending hits. He had one of his patented walk-off homers on Sept. 6, 2009. The Nationals scored two in the eighth to tie the Marlins 2-2, but gave those runs right back in the top of the ninth on a two-out single from Nick Johnson, whom the Nats had dealt to the Fish at that season’s trade deadline. Up two runs, Marlins manager Fredi González sent Juan Carlos Oviedo to the hill to wrap up a road win. But Willie Harris greeted him rudely, homering on Oviedo’s first offering. Christian Guzmán followed up with a single, bringing Zimmerman to the plate. Mr. Walk-Off ended it on a 1-1 pitch, and Oviedo never did record an out.
Sunday, Jan. 5 - 3:30 p.m. - Zimmerman’s walk-off homer on July 6, 2010 was actually his second longball of the game off Padres pitching. The fatal blow in the ninth came on just the second pitch of Luke Gregerson’s very brief outing. Like Zimmerman, Mike Morse went 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. Ian Desmond also homered for the Nats. Capps got the win despite giving up two hits in the top of the ninth.
Monday, Jan. 6 - 9 a.m. - The new-in-town Nationals were digging their new digs at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in April 2005, going 13-11 for the month on the way to a .500 season. Their win over the Diamondbacks on April 17 was of the comeback variety. The visitors jumped on Nats starter Esteban Loaiza for three runs in the second inning, and appeared to be cruising to a win until the seventh. D-backs starter Brad Halsey couldn’t record an out that inning, and Arizona went through three more pitchers before they finally escaped the inning. By that time, the Nats had scored seven runs. José Vidro, José Guillén and Nick Johnson each had two hits for five RBIs, and one of Johnson’s hits went for a triple.
Tuesday, Jan. 7 - 1 p.m. - Like good pitching? You’ll love this one. It happened May 18, 2005, with the Brewers visiting RFK. Loaiza scattered six hits and struck out five batters over eight innings, while Brewers starter Chris Capuano went 8 1/3 innings. Gary Majewski pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the Nats, who then scored the game’s only run in the bottom half for a walk-off win. Capuano hit Brad Wilkerson with a 1-2 pitch. Wilkerson took second on Jamey Carroll’s sacrifice bunt, then went to third on a Vinny Castilla single. The Brewers intentionally walked Johnson, but then Jeffrey Hammonds singled down the left-field line for the game-winner.
Wednesday, Jan. 8 - 9 a.m. - The Nats were wrapping up a three-game set at Wrigley Field on July 3, 2005. So in compliance with Murphy’s law, the getaway day contest went 12 innings. It ended well for the visitors, though, who won 5-4. Aramis Ramírez’s homer off Chad Cordero gave the Cubs their first two runs of the game in the ninth inning to send it to extras. Wilkerson’s double put the Nats up by two runs in the 11th, but a leadoff homer and an RBI double in the home half put them right back where they started. Brian Schneider’s two-out homer gave the Nats the lead again in the 12th, and this time it would stick. Joey Eischen retired the side in order to ice the Nationals’ win.