Nationals’ Jordan Zimmermann unfazed entering his 1st playoff start

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ST. LOUIS — On May 25, 2007, Jordan Zimmermann took the mound for Wisconsin-Stevens Point to open the NCAA Division III College World Series in Appleton, Wis. Zimmermann dominated Emory with a complete-game, one-hit shutout and went 3-for-3 at the plate, driving in one of his team’s runs in a 2-0 victory.

Zimmermann considers that the biggest game he has ever pitched in, and he knows it will immediately slide to second place once he takes the mound for Game 2 of the NLDS Monday at Busch Stadium.

“I don’t think there’s any games or anything close to this,” he said Sunday. “I went to the College World Series and there was 5,000 people there, so this is — I mean, that was nothing compared to this.”

Even Zimmermann’s math is off; attendance at the aforementioned game was 1,250. So, yes, Monday will be an entirely new experience for the right-hander. But if he didn’t tell you that, you’d hardly know it from his unflappable demeanor. Which is one reason his teammates have no fear that he’ll be rattled by the situation.

“I’ve seen it all year, saw it last year — he just wants the ball,” said first baseman Adam LaRoche. “He doesn’t say anything, you don’t know if he hates you or he loves you or what he’s thinking, but he goes out there and gets it done.”

Zimmermann made 32 starts in the regular season and allowed two earned runs or fewer in 22 of them. Only once did he allow more than four earned runs — eight against the Cardinals at Nationals Park on Sept. 1. Given his body of work this season, that one can be written off as an aberration, but Zimmermann knows the spotlight will be on him like never before Monday.

“I never really get nervous in any games, the only game I was nervous for was my debut, and I don’t see anything changing this time,” he said. “Maybe a few butterflies when I first walk out there but I’m sure they will go away quickly and I’ll just take it as another ballgame. I’m sure the fans are going to be pretty rowdy and loud and I’m going to try to zone them out as best I can and pitch the way I know I can pitch.”

Patience pays off

Shortly before calling the first pitch in Nationals playoff history, Charlie Slowes described Sunday to his listeners as “a day that Nationals fans and players and owners have dreamt about.”

He left someone out: himself.

“My wife called me [Saturday] on the way to the ballpark and all of a sudden she got real quiet and I said, ‘Are you there? Hello? Hello?’ And she was crying,” Slowes said before the game. “I said, ‘Are you all right? Why are you crying?’ She said, ‘I’m just happy for you.’”

Slowes met his wife, Tina, in St. Louis in 1984 shortly after moving here to work for KMOX radio. They married four years later and she listened to her husband chronicle mostly miserable baseball teams for 14 years before this season.

The Nationals’ radio voice since Day 1 in 2005, Slowes previously was the inaugural voice of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays from 1998-2004. If you’re scoring at home, that’s exactly zero seasons that ended in a winning record before 2012. But sitting down behind that microphone alongside partner Dave Jageler on Sunday was worth the wait.

“This is why you do it. You hope you get a shot,” Slowes said. “I’ve done some really bad years where the won-lost record’s not good. Dave and I, we had to learn to be entertaining when the team wasn’t good so people would want to listen.

“They weren’t listening to us for the wins and losses; they were listening to us to learn about the team and follow it and hope the team gets better. We developed a pretty good following in the lean years, so now we’ll enjoy this together.”

Noteworthy

Nationals manager Davey Johnson didn’t give a pregame speech to his charges before Game 1, choosing instead to chat up a few players individually.

“I just walk around. Talk to them. No big deal,” Johnson said. “If I had a meeting, they would think I’m panicking or something.”

⦁ Former Nationals bench coach and interim manager John McLaren was at Sunday’s game as an advance scout for the Oakland Athletics. He ran the team last summer between Jim Riggleman’s resignation and Johnson’s appointment.

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