The Washington Nationals had a 2013 season in which they failed to live up to the lofty expectations of the previous campaign. Despite this disappointment, 2013 was filled with moments that are well worth remembering. Here now are the top 5 moments of the 2013 season (moments 6-10 are covered here).
5. Jordan Zimmermann’s 91 pitch, one hit complete game — April 26th, Cincinnati Reds
One night after Gio Gonzalez one hit the Reds in an 8-1 victory, Jordan Zimmermann took the mound, hoping to match Gonzalez’s performance. Zimmermann came out strong, retiring the first three batters on only 7 pitches. Zimmermann continued to dominate in the next inning, striking out Jay Bruce on 3 pitchers and setting down the side on only 11 pitches. In the top of the third, Zimmermann gave up a single to former Nationals farmhand Xavier Paul. However, it only took Zimmermann 9 more pitches to get out of the inning. After three, Zimmermann had faced 10 batters on 30 pitches. Zimmermann only got better after that. In the final six innings of the game, Zimmermann only allowed two more base runners, one reaching on an error, and the other reaching on a walk. Zimmermann finished what he started, going the distance for the second time in his career, and his first complete game win. On a night where Zimmermann needed to be almost perfect (the Nats only scored one run) he was just that.
4. Ian Desmond game winning grand slam – June 19th, Philadelphia Phillies
Even though they are no longer the juggernaut they were just two seasons ago, it still feels special when the Nats manage to pull a win from the Phillies. But even in that context, this one was special. The Nationals were in danger of getting swept in Philly, and through 8 innings, it looked like that was going to happen. The Nationals were down 2-1 heading into the ninth, facing off against Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon. With two outs and two on in the ninth, Jayson Werth came to the plate and knocked the first pitch he saw into left field, tying the game at 2. Relievers Tyler Clippard, Ian Krol, and Drew Storen kept the game scoreless going into the 11th. With one out in the 11th, the Nationals loaded the bases against Michael Stutes, and Ian Desmond walked to the plate. Desmond, who had gone hitless to that point with three strikeouts, lifted a hanging Stutes slider high over the left field wall, handing what at that time seemed like a must-win game to the Nats.
3. Denard Span’s 29-game hit streak — August 17th to September 18th
On August 17th, Denard Span got 3 hits in at bats, playing all 15 innings in the Nationals’ marathon 8-7 win over the Braves. It was a promising performance in what had been to that point a disappointing season — Span was hitting .260/.311/.354, all well below his career norms. But Span was about to go through a stretch that would salvage his season. Span made it a little more than halfway to DiMaggio, putting together a 29-game hit streak, over the course of which he had 46 hits, including 5 doubles, 2 triples and 2 home runs. The 29-game streak was one short of Ryan Zimmerman’s Nationals-record 30-game hitting streak, a record he set in 2009. More importantly, the Nationals went 22-9 over the course of Span’s hit streak, turning a disaster of a season into merely a disappointment. The streak came to an end on September 19th, as Span went 0-4 against Henderson Alvarez and the Miami Marlins. But through the streak, Span managed to remind the Nationals why they traded for him in the first place, solidifying the outfield coming into the 2014 season.
2. Doubleheader sweep of the Braves – September 17th, Atlanta Braves
On the morning of September 17, the Nationals sat at 79-70, 5 games back of a wild card spot — just close enough to dream of the postseason. After the Navy Yard shootings had postponed the first game of a three game set with the division rival Braves, the team had to play two must-win games on one day. In game 1, the Nationals took an early 3-0 lead, but saw it slowly evaporate until an 8th inning Evan Gattis home run made it 4-3 Braves. The Braves added one more in the top of the ninth, and turned to near-unhittable closer Craig Kimbrel, who to that point in his career had never given up 3 runs in an outing. But this inning became one of the more improbable in Nationals history. After walking the leadoff man, Kimbrel got a ground ball up the middle off the bat of Wilson Ramos. But second baseman Elliot Johnson made a poor flip to second, and Ramos (the slowest player on the team) was credited with an infield single. Kimbrel then walked Anthony Rendon, and after a Chad Tracy RBI groundout, the score was 5-4, and the Nationals had runners at second and third. Denard Span stepped to the plate, needing only contact to tie the game. He rolled a soft grounder to shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who according to advanced defensive metrics, was in the midst of the greatest defensive season in baseball history. But on this improbable day, Simmons let an easy chance go through his legs, two runs scored, and somehow, the Nationals had won game one.
In game two, the team rode seven shutout innings from Tanner Roark, in just his third major league start, to a 4-0 victory. It wasn’t to be, but after this day, a Nationals fan could dream that 2013 would end in something other than disappointment.
1. Bryce Harper two home run opening day – April 1st, Miami Marlins
Nothing embodied a season filled with much hope and potential more than Bryce Harper’s opening day debut. On the first swing of the 20 year old phenom’s season, Harper hit a Ricky Nolasco change up over the scoreboard in right center field. The capacity crowd was delirious, waving their 2012 postseason rally towels in the air — an immersive sea of red.
Harper came to bat again in the fourth inning, facing off against Nolasco once again. When he connected on another Nolasco offspeed pitch, sending it over the right field wall once again, he somehow managed to raise the crowd’s already sky-high expectations. The team was already projected by most to make a World Series appearance, but on this day, anything seemed possible.