With two outs against him in the bottom of the ninth inning Saturday night, Washington trailing Baltimore 6-4, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman sent his 2-2 pitch flying over the left center field wall at Nationals Park to give his team one last chance at completing its comeback.
Unfortunately for the Nationals — who lost their second straight game against the Orioles — that last-second shot would be too little, too late, as Orioles closer Jim Johnson struck out Adam LaRoche and put to bed Washington's late-game rally.
Lately, slow starts and something manager Davey Johnson described as a "sputtering" offense have forced the Nationals to depend upon those last-minute heroics.
"There's no reason for it. We just haven't been able to score runs early off their guys," said Zimmerman, who finished the game 3-for-5. "We don't necessarily put bad at-bats or anything. We just haven't scored runs."
Baltimore starter Jason Hammel had back-to-back one-two-three innings to start the game. After four frames, the Nationals, down 4-0, had just one hit to their name. Even LaRoche, who has a team-high 30 RBI and leads the team in on-base percentage, went 0-for-4.
"Today I was chasing some, going outside the zone helping him out," LaRoche said. "Then that just kind of snowballs and the next thing you know you look up and it's the fifth, sixth inning and you've got two hits. And today we're down six runs."
In the fifth, things began to look up for the Nats, as second baseman Steve Lombardozzi had the third straight hit of the inning to knock in their first run. Washington would bring three more home in the sixth before Zimmerman's ninth-inning home run.
That's a scene that has become quite familiar for the Nationals this season.
Prior to Saturday's game, they recorded 85 hits in the first three innings combined, compared to 125 in innings four through six and 99 in the last three innings of the game. Similarly, they have scored 53 of their total 137 runs this season in the final third of the game, while scoring just 34 in the first three frames.
Frustrated starter Ross Detwiler, who allowed six earned runs on nine hits in his five innings, said the Nationals' five runs should have been enough to get a win and force a Sunday rubber match.
Still, Johnson tried to put a positive spin on the result.
"I'm always proud of this ball club, but tonight, especially proud," he said. "Down six-zip, come back and battle 'em and have the winning run at the plate. Can't beat that."
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