Zimmerman connects in grand fashion

Zimmerman's slam seals Nats' win

WASHINGTON -- The first pitch from Florida's Jorge Julio zipped in high and tight and spun Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman out of the batter's box. But since that put him ahead in the count, Zimmerman was pretty sure that the hard-throwing Julio would come back with a fastball.

Zimmerman's reasoning made sense. The game was tied with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and he thought that Julio wouldn't want to throw a slider and fall farther behind in the count. So the third baseman waited on a fastball -- and when it came, Zimmerman crushed it.

Zimmerman sent the 1-0 fastball sailing far over the wall in left-center field for a walk-off grand slam home run that ended a wild night and gave the Nationals a 7-3 victory over Florida early Sunday morning at RFK Stadium.

The Nationals had to endure two rain delays that sent the game far into the night. There were a total of 3 hours, 38 minutes worth of delays and the final pitch came 6 hours, 37 minutes after the first one. In fact, Zimmerman hit his homer at 1:42 a.m. to cap a five-run bottom of the ninth that Washington put together 20 minutes after the second rain delay ended, giving the Nationals a second consecutive victory and their first series win this year.

"Every situation is kind of unique in baseball," said Nationals manager Manny Acta. "It was worthwhile waiting for."

Rain had started early in the game and intensified in the fourth inning, forcing the umpires to stop play with one out in the top of the fifth. That happened at 8:25 p.m., and the game didn't begin again until 11:16, a delay of 2 hours, 51 minutes.

The Marlins (16-20) appeared in command with a 3-2 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth. But the rain suddenly picked up and forced the umpires to stop play again at 12:35 a.m.

However, the storm passed and the teams began play again 47 minutes later with Washington (11-25) facing Taylor Tankersley. Brian Schneider started the winning rally with a walk, and Nook Logan came in to run for him after two pitches to pinch-hitter Ronnie Belliard, who lined to center.

Dmitri Young came off the bench to pinch-hit and singled to left-center with Logan racing to third. Pinch-hitter Jesus Flores followed with a walk to load the bases, and Felipe Lopez celebrated his 27th birthday with an RBI single to right, scoring Logan to tie the game.

The bases remained loaded, and Tankersley struck out Cristian Guzman. That's when Julio came in, and Zimmerman ended it with his second homer of the season.

"For me to look slider, I don't think [so]," Zimmerman said. "Especially after the first pitch, he's down 1-0, for him to spike a slider and throw it in the dirt [doesn't make sense]. He throws hard. He throws a fastball; it's his best pitch."

Brad Wilkerson was the last player from this franchise to hit a walk-off grand slam, doing it Aug. 17, 2003, for the Expos.

This was Zimmerman's second career grand slam and second walk-off homer, and it was something Acta loved to see.

"This is what we needed," Acta said. "We needed Zimmerman to step up and carry us because he's our main guy here."

Zimmerman and Schneider were both talking about how this game was similar to a late-season game last year against the Phillies when rain forced the game to start around 11:30 p.m. and not end until after 2 a.m.

"It was a pretty unique game," Schneider said."It was a good win for us. We battled back. It was a long night and a long game. Everyone's tired, but no one gave up."

The Nationals began having problems after the first rain delay when Levale Speigner relieved starter Matt Chico and allowed the first five Marlins to reach after play started again, two of whom scored to give Florida a 3-1 lead.

Chico gave up one run on five hits in 4 1/3 innings before the rain delay in the top of the fifth. When the game resumed, Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla hit back-to-back doubles off Speigner to quickly give the Marlins a 2-1 lead. Aaron Boone later added an RBI single to make it 3-1.

The Nationals cut it to 3-2 when Austin Kearns hit the first inside-the-park homer since the franchise came to town. Leading off the bottom of the sixth, his shot to deep center banged off the wall and ricocheted towards left field, and Kearns scored standing up.

"It's totally overrated," Kearns said with a laugh. "I'd much rather jog around the bases."

The Washington pitchers gave up 13 hits -- eight of which were doubles, tying a Florida team record -- but were able to strand 12 Marlins to keep the game close. Jon Rauch (2-0) got the victory, and Tankersley (2-1) took the loss

Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.