The 2014 season has been one of firsts for the Washington Nationals. First time winning two NL East crowns in three seasons. First back-to-back-to-back winning seasons since the Montreal Expos days. First playoff appearance as a manager for Matt Williams.
So why not cap it all off with the first no-hitter in Nationals history?
Jordan Zimmermann did just that Sunday, walking one batter and striking out 10 in the Nationals' season-closing victory over the Miami Marlins. Zimmerman needed just 104 pitches—narrowly missing out on a "Maddux"—and turned an otherwise meaningless game into a cause for celebration.
The game's closest call actually came on the final out, when Steven Souza Jr. needed to make a diving play on a Christian Yelich fly ball. Souza, who came in for Ryan Zimmerman in left field during the top of the ninth inning, made the play, and Zimmermann raised his arms in triumph.
"I thought that was a double for sure, and here he comes out of nowhere and makes the play," Zimmermann told reporters.
The Nationals made constant use of their bench throughout the game. Eight reserves in total received playing time for defensive purposes, most being subbed in at the game's midpoint to help regulars rest for the upcoming divisional round series. Only two Nationals starters were in for all nine innings: Zimmermann and catcher Wilson Ramos, who played a huge part in preserving the no-hitter in his own right.
Ramos picked off Garrett Jones in the seventh inning, one of two baserunners allowed by Zimmerman. Jones had reached after swinging and missing at a wild pitch. Justin Bour's walk in the fifth inning was Zimmermann's only real blemish, coming after he'd retired the first 14 Marlins he faced to start the game.
While Washington had no trouble getting hits—it knocked around Henderson Alvarez 11 times—the Nats offense nonetheless needed Zimmermann to be excellent. Ian Desmond's second-inning home run proved to be their only run, as they time and again failed to come through with runners in scoring position. Ramos, though excellent defensively, failed all three times he came up with runners on.
Luckily, Zimmermann came into the season's final day with career-best stuff.
Zimmermann's no-hitter was the fifth and very likely last of the 2014 season. Four Phillies combined to blank the Atlanta Braves earlier this month, joining Josh Beckett, Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum. That's two better than the 2013 campaign but still lagging far behind 2012, when it seemed like teams were being no-hit on a biweekly basis.
Barring a surprise later Sunday, there will not be a no-hitter thrown by an American League pitcher for the second straight season. Felix Hernandez, who shut down the Rays on Aug. 15, 2012, was the last AL pitcher to pull off the feat.
The win brings Zimmermann's record to 14-5 and highlights the team's embarrassment of pitching riches heading into the postseason. All five Washington starters go into the postseason with ERAs below 4.00, with three of the five below the 3.00 mark. The Nationals rank first in ERA and are among the leaders in nearly every pitching category.
If the team's bats hold up, another first for 2014 could be a world championship.
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