#TBT to “Nationals Classics”: Doubling down on twinbills

In a time of disappointments for baseball fans everywhere, Nationals fans got an extra dose of woe this week when they learned that the face of the franchise has opted out of the 2020 season, citing his concern that returning to the clubhouse this year would greatly increase his chances of contracting the coronavirus and spreading it to his family.

Ryan Zimmerman, 35, would have been easing off on his playing time this season even if the COVID-19 pandemic had not come to pass. Now with the slugging Nats stalwart begging off of the 2020 campaign altogether, we might have seen the end of his storied career.

As much of a bummer as that is, the Nats are still the world champs, and their belated (and abbreviated) defense of that title begins in three weeks. Barring further unforeseen catastrophe, of course.

And while we’re waiting for the long-delayed arrival of opening day, you’ll have the chance to see many of the great moments in Zimmerman’s career, and in Nats history broadly. This week’s offerings include a larger-than-usual sample of high times from the club’s early days in D.C.

So grab a cold one and settle in for “Nationals Classics.” And should a tear or two fall into your beverage, it’s only natural.

Thursday, July 2 - 9 a.m. - Washington had been starved for big league baseball since the second incarnation of the Senators bolted for Texas to become the Rangers following the 1971 season. So when the Nationals hosted the Diamondbacks for their home opener in their inaugural season of 2005, the DMV was ready to party. And the Nats were only too happy to give them something to cheer, pulling off a 5-3 win behind 8 1/3 strong innings from Liván Hernández.

Thursday, July 2 - 4 p.m. - The reconstituted 2020 schedule has the Nationals starting the season at home against the Yankees, so consider this one an opening day preview of sorts. The Nats hosted the Bronx Bombers for a Sunday afternoon contest on June 18, 2006. Young Zimmerman, then in his first full season with the Nats, made Yanks starter Chien Ming-Wang a hard-luck loser that day, belting a two-run homer in the ninth to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 win.

Friday, July 3 - 3:30 p.m. - This game from exactly 15 years ago kicks off the first of three “Nationals Classics” doubleheaders this week. On July 3, 2005, the Nats were at Wrigley Field and looked to be riding a four-hit, seven-inning performance from Ryan Drese to a shutout road win, but Aramis Ramírez hit a two-run homer off Chad Cordero in the home ninth to force extras. Brad Wilkerson’s two-run double in the 11th had the visitors again poised to win, but Jerry Hairston’s leadoff homer and Todd Hollandsworth’s RBI double tied the score again. Brian Schneider homered with two out in the top of the 12th, and this time the Nats’ lead held up for a 5-4 victory.

Friday, July 3 - 7 p.m. - July 3 was also a good day for the Nats in 2016. In fact, it was a really good day for Nationals hitters, who teed off on Reds pitching in a 12-1 triumph. Danny Espinosa led the charge with six RBIs, two-thirds of them coming on a fourth-inning slam (he also had a solo in the seventh). Stephen Strasburg hadn’t allowed a hit through 6 2/3 innings, but with the game well in hand, manager Dusty Baker decided not to press his luck or Strasburg’s stamina. All’s well that ends well. Strasburg improved to 11-0 that day.

Saturday, July 4 - 2 p.m. - As you celebrate the nation’s 244th anniversary, enjoy the ninth anniversary of this wild one from Independence Day 2011, when the Nats set off a 5-4 win over the Cubbies in 10 innings at Nationals Park. Jayson Werth led off the 10th with a walk, took second on a sac bunt, stole third and then scampered home for the walk-off win on a wild pitch.

Saturday, July 4 - 7 p.m. - Another July 4 walk-off for the Nats came in 2006, courtesy of - who would have guessed? - Zimmerman. The Marlins had a 4-3 lead going into the Nationals ninth, but Joe Borowski gave up back-to-back singles from pinch-hitter Robert Fick and Alphonso Soriano. José Vidro then hit a fly ball for the second out and the Fish had a chance to escape, but Zimmerman yanked Borowski’s 2-2 pitch to left for the instant win.

Sunday, July 5 - noon - Cordero gave up three runs on three hits - including back-to-back homers from Ryan Howard and David Bell - to blow a save on Sept. 3, 2005. The Nationals got two runners on but came up empty in the home ninth, prompting extra innings. The Phillies blew an even better chance in the 11th, leaving the bases loaded. Preston Wilson’s line single in the 12th plated José Guillén to give the Nats a 5-4 walk-off win.

Sunday, July 5 - 11:30 p.m. - Baseball, probably more than any other team sport, revels in individual accomplishments. Barry Bonds got what most fans would consider the Big Kahuna - the career record for home runs - off Nationals starter Mike Bacsik on Aug. 7, 2007. But while Bonds soaked in the cheers of the home fans in San Francisco that day, the Giants would take a loss. Felipe López, Austin Kearns and Schneider also went deep that evening, and Zimmerman collected a rare triple as the visitors grabbed an 8-6 victory.

Monday, July 6 - 9 a.m. - Today marks the 10th anniversary of this thriller, another game in which Zimmerman bailed out the Nats bullpen. Zimmerman’s ninth-inning homer - his scond of the night - spelled the end for the Padres, who had jumped on Tyler Clippard to erase a 5-2 deficit in the eighth.

Monday, July 6 - 4 p.m. - July 6 seems to be another date Zimmerman likes. In 2006, that day was a long one for both the Marlins and Nationals pitching staffs, with the Nats scoring five in the first inning and the Fish zooming past with seven in the top of the second. The Nats tied the score with two in the seventh, the latter run coming in as Zimmerman drew a base on balls with the bases juiced. Zimmerman brought Schneider home with a game-winning single in the 11th.

Monday, July 6 - 8 p.m. - A year ago today, Max Scherzer allowed just four hits and a walk while striking out 11 over seven innings against the Royals, all while wearing a powder blue throwback uni that gave a nod to the Nats’ roots in Montreal. Juan Soto and Kurt Suzuki each drove in a pair of runs as the Nationals cruised to a 6-0 victory.

Tuesday, July 7 - 4 p.m. - On this date 10 years ago, the Nats prevailed in a tussle with the Padres at Nationals Park. Adam Dunn homered three times to drive in five runs and Matt Capps earned a save in the 7-6 Nats victory.

Tuesday, July 7 - 7 p.m. - Mark Reynolds provided a real feel-good story in his lone season with the Nats, who signed him to a minor league contract with the 2018 campaign already underway. Coming to Washington when Zimmerman went down with an oblique strain, the journeyman corner infielder homered twice in his Nats debut on May 13. On July 7, Reynolds again tagged two taters, and the Nats whupped the Marlins 18-4. Reynolds drove in 10 of those runs. Pedro Severino added three RBIs, and Soto and Anthony Rendon had two apiece.

Wednesday, July 8 - 1:30 p.m. - By the time the 21st century reached its teenage years, the Nationals had begun making a habit of claiming the National League East Crown. They did so for the fourth time in six seasons on Sept. 10, 2017, and it wasn’t hard to see that day that Strasburg had a lot to do with the club’s success that year. The big right-hander threw eight innings without letting the Phillies cross the plate once, extending his scoreless streak to 34 innings. Ben Lively pitched well for the Phils, also going eight innings, but was the loser as the Nats won 3-2.

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