Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Tyler Colvin's fourth-inning homer off John Lannan proved the difference.
Ryan Zimmerman was about to bat with a chance to win the game with one swing. There's perhaps no more-comforting thought around these parts than that.
"Absolutely," Kennedy said. "Any time he's up in that situation, you feel good about it."
"He's the guy you want up there in that situation," John Lannan said.
"Any time Zim comes up to the plate in a situation like that," Ian Desmond said, "you always think he's going to get a hit."
So for those couple of nanoseconds after Zimmerman struck Carlos Marmol's 2-2 fastball and sent it flying down the right-field line, it was perfectly appropriate to believe the man who has produced more walk-off hits than anyone else in baseball the last five seasons had just done it again.
Zimmerman, however, was less confident than the crowd of 18,250.
"I knew for sure it wasn't a home run," he said. "But I thought it might have a chance to get into the corner."
Kosuke Fukudome had other ideas. The Cubs right fielder, inserted for defense one inning earlier, was playing deep with two outs in the ninth and had little trouble tracking down Zimmerman's drive to end the game and seal the Nationals' 5-4 loss.
So much for the latest bit of heroics from the once-and-still Face of the Franchise.
"Can't do it every time," Zimmerman said with a shrug.
Nope, nobody's perfect in baseball, a sport that immortalizes guys who fail 70 percent of the time with a permanent plaque in Cooperstown. Zim is no exception. But his at-bat in the bottom of the ninth did bring life back to a ballpark that had been dead most of the night and turned what looked like another ho-hum Nationals loss into something more tolerable.
Two mistakes by John Lannan -- each resulting in a home run -- and a whole lot of nothing against Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano left the Nationals trailing 5-1 entering the bottom of the ninth, with little reason to believe a rally was in the works.
The always-unpredictable Marmol, however, made sure the Nats still had a chance. With one out, he walked Michael Morse, then allowed a single to Alberto Gonzalez, then walked Willie Harris to load the bases and bring Nyjer Morgan to the plate representing the tying run.
Three pitches, two fouled-off fastballs and a horrible hack at a down-and-in slider sent Morgan back to the bench and diminished the Nationals' hopes.
That's the problem with Marmol. He can fluctuate between filthy-dominant and horribly-hittable in a span of seconds. But when that slider of his is working...
"That thing's nasty, man," Morgan said.
Desmond agrees. The rookie shortstop, out of the lineup for the second straight night with a minor thumb ailment, was sent up to face Marmol with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth. Three nasty sliders and two ugly swings later, he, too, was back on the bench muttering to himself.
"It's a hard situation to hit in," Desmond said. "But at the same time, we're all professionals, and you're supposed to have professional at-bats up there."
Did he feel that was a professional at-bat?
"I mean, three pitches and sit down," he said. "Not really."
The Desmond and Morgan strikeouts notwithstanding, the Nationals still had hope. Kennedy was at the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth. And unlike his teammates, the veteran second baseman delivered the clutch hit the Nats had been searching for all night.
A rope down the right-field line brought all three runners home, brought Kennedy into second with a massive double and brought Zimmerman to the plate with a chance to win it.
Marmol didn't make life easy for Zim. The Chicago closer fired up five consecutive sliders to begin the at-bat. Zimmerman took one for a strike, took another for a ball, swung and missed at a third, somehow laid off the fourth for ball two and somehow fouled off the fifth to keep the at-bat alive.
The count now 2-2, Zimmerman dug in anyone, prepared for a sixth straight slider from Marmol but knowing well the pitcher might try to sneak a fastball past him.
"That's what makes him so good," Zimmerman said. "Obviously, he throws a majority of sliders. But in the back of your mind, he's got a 95 mph fastball. It's not like you can look slider and foul off the fastball. That's what makes him so tough. He's not a fun at-bat."
Sure enough, Marmol finally cut loose with a heater. The ball was out over the plate, and Zimmerman pounced on it and attempted to take it the other way.
Inside the Nationals' dugout, players jumped to their feet.
"He put a good jolt on that ball," Lannan said.
But then Fukudome closed the gap and tracked it down, letting all the air out of the ballpark.
Just like that, what had been another uninspiring game had turned into something far more dramatic, only to end in the same disappointing fashion as so many others. Nats lose, 5-4.
"I made good contact," Zimmerman said. "It didn't happen."