It was a game in which Washington went 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position, causing manager Jim Riggleman to wonder if it was going to be another tough night for his club, which had lost seven of eight. It didn't help that the club couldn't take advantage of a scoring opportunity in the sixth inning.
With a runner on first and no outs, Zimmerman lined out to right fielder Jeff Francoeur. After Adam Dunn walked to put runners on first and second, Josh Willingham struck out and Mike Morse hit the ball to deep center field, but Jesus Feliciano caught the drive for the final out.
"We really had some great at-bats," Riggleman said. "It just felt like it was not going to be a good night for us when Zim hit his ball into right-center ... and Morse hit a ball over the center fielder's head and made a play. It felt like it was just going to be a bad luck, tough luck night."
But Washington eventually had a good night and won the game in the ninth. With one out, the score tied at 1 and left-hander Pedro Feliciano on the mound, pinch-hitter Willie Harris, seldom used by the Nationals lately, walked on six pitches. After Nyjer Morgan bunted for a single, Cristian Guzman singled to left-center field to load the bases.
Zimmerman then came to the plate. Entering the game, he was hitting .200 (14-for-70) with five RBIs in his last 19 games. But Washington's star third baseman came through in a big way. On a 2-0 pitch from right-hander Ryota Igarashi, Zimmerman hit a sacrifice fly, scoring Harris and making Feliciano the losing pitcher.
"Zim's probably one of the better players at being able to do that, go to right field on a ball like that. He did exactly what he needed to do," Francoeur said.
Zimmerman felt he was in the driver's seat once he was ahead in the count.
"I was just trying to drive the ball to right-center, like I always do," he said.
The game featured a pitchers' duel between Nats right-hander Livan Hernandez and Mets left-hander Johan Santana, but when it was over, neither figured in the decision.
Hernandez delivered one of his best outings, lasting seven innings and allowing one run on seven hits. Santana was just as good, throwing seven innings and giving up one run on six hits.
Santana was given a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, when Jesus Feliciano scored on a single by Ike Davis.
Hernandez got with a no-decision when Washington tied the score at 1 in the seventh. With two outs, Morgan singled to left on a 2-2 pitch to drive in Ian Desmond. The hit was big for Morgan, who was hitting just .228 against left-handers this season.
In his previous three at-bats against Santana, Morgan appeared overmatched, having struck out twice and flied out to left field. In the at-bat in the seventh, Morgan decided that he was going to be his own hitting coach.
"You have to make adjustments on the fly," Morgan said. "If you don't make the adjustment on the fly, then you will get worn out in this game. You are your best hitting coach when you are in the box. You can only work for so much when you are in the cage with your hitting coach. I kind of remembered little things from the past. I just tried to stay with the short little swing."
With the victory, the Nationals improved to 35-45, and Riggleman is hoping the club has a better month in July than it did last month, when it went 8-19.
"Every win is huge. You feel better about yourself," Riggleman said. "Our ballclub has played hard. As bad as our record has been lately, we have actually cleaned it up a little bit the last couple of days. We played really good baseball today against a ballclub that also played very well and pitched very well. Our guys pitched great, played good defense and got a couple timely hits. That was just an outstanding baseball game in which we came up on top."