It’s the 9th inning, one run lead–the starting pitcher has been dominating the opposition lineup all day–the manager would like to see him get that complete game. The starter gets the first out, but then the next hitter manages to get to first base. The manager decides to leave his starter in the game despite the fact that the next batter up is the opposition’s best hitter. Next thing you know–BANG, ZOOM GO THE FIREWORKS–Ryan Zimmerman has just hit a 2-run walk off homer against Chein-Ming Wang and the Yankees on Father’s Day 2006.
Referring back to my post about Game 1, my worst fears about the Nats going into this series has proven to be correct–their offense has retreated back into its shell and can’t score when they don’t hit home runs. And in October, when the air is heavy especially at Nats’ Stadium, home runs are hard to come by. As insinuated by that first paragraph, I don’t blame Matt Williams for pulling Jordan Zimmermann in the 9th inning with a runner on first–that’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.
It seems that the Nats’ offense, which was said by the analysts to have “no holes” going into this series, actually has one gigantic hole–no clutch hitters. I realize there is a debate about whether there really is any such thing as a truly “clutch” hitter, that such quantifiable stats as hitting with runners in scoring position tend to rise and fall quite precipitously for any player from year to year. Nevertheless, some players often seem to come though in the big moments–especially in the playoffs–while many others don’t.
The Nats do have one of those guys, but unfortunately Ryan Zimmerman is relegated to bench duty these days. Given a chance to pinch hit last night, Ryan collected one of the merely 9 hits the Nats managed during 18 excruciating innings. Now we see why this team was so desperate to get Ryan back into the lineup, even in his hobbled state. There’s a big difference between racking up wins for a month at the end of the season against the putrid NL East and coming up big when it counts against the other contenders in the postseason. And unfortunately, the one guy who has been known as “Mr. Walkoff” ever since his memorable Father’s Day blast against future teammate Chien-Ming Wang (not not mention all the other walk off hits he’s had during his career) can’t play enough right now to be able to make a difference.