- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 20, 2011

Five hours and 19 minutes after Livan Hernandez stood on the mound at Nationals Park for the first time Friday night, Jayson Werth stood 60 feet, 6 inches away from it representing the start of the Nationals’ final stand. Philadelphia Phillies closer Ryan Madson had been summoned. A two-run lead was his protect and the Phillies’ 81st victory was seemingly moments away.

But then Werth stepped in. He took a strike and swung at one — a script Nationals’ fans were all too familiar with. Then, he fouled off five and watched three balls go by before slapping the 11th pitch of the at-bat into left field. Four singles, a sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk later and the Nationals found themselves in a tie ballgame with the bases loaded.

There really was only one man the Nationals would want standing at the plate in that situation, only one man who could deliver the way he has more than any other major leaguer since his debut in 2005. Ryan Zimmerman worked the count full against Madson and then sent a full-count fastball over the left-field fence. The Nationals beat the Phillies 8-4.

Rounding third base after his second career game-ending grand slam — before he flicked his batting helmet into the fray — Zimmerman flung his hands out to his sides and stared at the crush of teammates surrounding home plate. His pose suggested what everyone else was thinking: “What else did you expect?”

“He’s one of those great players,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson — who walked into the post-game press conference shaking his head saying, “That was as good as it gets right there.

“He’s totally in control in tough situations. He’s very calm. The rest of us get a little excited, but he doesn’t.”

“The pressure’s on him, man,” Zimmerman said, moments after taking a whipped cream pie to the face and a Gatorade bath. “It’s not on me. I’m supposed to get out.”

With the eighth game-ending home run of his career, Zimmerman not only put the pressure on Madson, he also made a winner out of so many heroes for the Nationals.

It started with Hernandez, who threw nine pitches in the game before sheets of rain descended on Nationals Park and remained there for 2 hours and 22 minutes. Hernandez returned when the game resumed and saved the Nationals bullpen — ultimately setting up Tom Gorzelanny, Sean Burnett and Todd Coffey to combine for five innings of one-hit baseball.

Hernandez threw 85 pitches during his pre-game bullpen session, nine in the game, roughly 35 in the cage four different times during the rain delay and 30 pitches to warmup once the delay concluded. Then he threw 59 more in the game — seven of which were hit in the third inning to help the Phillies to a 4-0 lead. By the time Hernandez was done for the night, he’d thrown over 300 pitches.

“It’s crazy, but I feel really good,” Hernandez said. “[Pitching coach Steve McCatty] was a little worried. … Before I go on the mound he still asked me. I said, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it. I feel good. I lie to my mom, but I’m never going to lie to you.’ … He started laughing, I go to the mound and that’s it.”

“He’s probably the only guy on this earth that I’d say OK,” Johnson said.

Roy Oswalt, the Phillies’ scheduled starter, was pulled before the game in favor of Kyle Kendrick. Oswalt will now start Saturday instead. He never threw a pitch Friday night but was warmed up and ready to go.

However, this is nothing new for the rubber-armed Cuban, who once threw 153 pitches during a start in 1998. Nine days later he threw 152 more. He also threw 120 pitches or more 15 times in 2005. In 2009, he sat through a 1:45 rain delay in St. Louis that occurred in the fourth inning, yet Hernandez still went seven innings.

Still, even for him, Friday night was a stretch.

“It’s something new for me,” he said. “I don’t want to try to be a hero but I feel proud, too. You find somebody who’ll stop for two hours and a half, you call me.”

It was the work of the Nationals’ bullpen that allowed the offense to be in position to come back at all. After Hernandez’s third-inning blemish, the Phillies had just two baserunners the entire game.

Down 4-2 in the ninth inning, the Nationals used three straight singles — by Werth, Danny Espinosa and Jonny Gomes — to cut the deficit to one run.

Wilson Ramos executed a sacrifice bunt, pinch hitter Jesus Flores was intentionally walked and Ian Desmond hit the  game-tying RBI single — on the sixth pitch of the at-bat after being down 0-2. 

Ultimately, it was the bullpen that gave Zimmerman the chance to make the Nationals winners, even as the clock ticked toward morning.

“For me to come up to bat in that situation, especially tonight, was a big team effort,” Zimmerman said. “When you can string together that many good at-bats against a pitcher like that, it’s a pretty special inning.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide