#TBT to “Nationals Classics”: Soto shows his stuff, Zimmerman knows how to finish

Here in the real world, it’s still winter. Short days, cold nights, walking with eyes peeled for any stray patches of ice.

But in the Sunshine State, baseball is back and hope springs eternal. Pitchers and catchers have made their way to West Palm Beach, and the Nationals will soon be playing exhibition games and getting ready for both the parent club and its minor league affiliates to begin their seasons.

We’re not quite there yet, so for a few more Thursdays we’ll continue in this space to give you sneak peeks at the throwback treats MASN delivers in the offseason.

Ryan Zimmerman (as he often does) figures prominently in this week’s offerings, doing that late-game voodoo he does so well. So once your shoveling and scraping are out of the way, settle in (especially you UVA alums) to enjoy Mr. National and his teammates throwing rock salt onto the opposition on “Nationals Classics.”

Saturday, Feb. 20 - 8 p.m. - Here’s a long game from last year’s shortened season. The Braves took three of four in a mid-September series at Nationals Park, but not this one. By the end of the third inning, the Nats had taken a 5-0 lead, but Atlanta kept battling, and rallied for three runs in the ninth to send this Sept. 11, 2020 contest to extras. With two out in the 12th, Michael A. Taylor hit a line drive single that brought Adam Eaton home with the game-winning run.

Sunday, Feb. 21 - 11:30 p.m. - The Nats trailed the Phillies by two heading into the ninth on Aug. 19, 2011, but Ryan Madson was unable to close things out for the Phils. The Nationals greeted him with three straight singles and a run to start the home half, and when Ian Desmond’s base hit plated Danny Espinosa, it looked as if extra innings were likely, especially after Rick Ankiel whiffed for the second out. But then - cue “The Imperial March” - Zimmerman stepped to the plate. His grand slam turned a nail-biter into an 8-4 Nats win.

Monday, Feb. 22 - 6 p.m. - The Nats experienced a disappointing 2020 season, but there were bright spots. Soto provided a big one, becoming the youngest player ever to win a National League batting title. With the Mets visiting Nats Park on the season’s final day, Soto singled in the middle of a five-run second inning, bringing his average to .351. Nationals manager Davey Martinez made sure it would stay there, sending Jake Noll in to pinch-hit for Soto in the third, thereby ending Soto’s day with just the one at-bat. The Nats picked up in that third inning where they’d left off, scoring six runs on the way to a 15-5 win to cap the year.

Tuesday, Feb. 23 - 11:30 p.m. - On July 7, 2018 the Nationals utterly destroyed Marlins pitching, scoring 18 runs on 17 hits. Bryce Harper went 3-for-3, Soto and Anthony Rendon each drove in a couple of runs, and Pedro Severino notched three RBIs. But it was Mark Reynolds who had the biggest day, homering twice and plating 10 runs in an 18-4 laugher.

Wednesday, Feb. 24 - 1 p.m. - On Aug. 22, 2018, Zimmerman delivered another walk-off victory, but this one walked a little slower than usual. After trading punches with the Phillies for 8 1/2 innings, the Nats were down 7-6. Harper and Rendon made flyball outs to start the home ninth, but Soto doubled. Zimmerman then poked a 2-1 pitch from Seranthony Domínguez deep to right. The ball came down near the top of the wall, and the initial ruling on the field credited Zimmerman only with a double. Upon his arrival at second, Zimmerman twirled his finger and manager Davey Martinez popped out of the dugout, cupping his hands over his ears to signal a replay challenge. Review revealed that Zimmerman’s hit had indeed cleared the wall before bouncing back onto the field and the Nats enjoyed a belated celebration of an 8-7 win.

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