A day of celebration
by Mike Feigen
For 20 teams throughout the major leagues, the day after the conclusion of the regular season is often a time for reflection, a chance to digest a year of ups and downs, of wins and losses, of hopes dashed and chances blown. For 10 others, it is an opportunity to look forward to the postseason, to dream of a magical championship run yet to be scripted.
The Washington Nationals are one of those fortunate 10 — but the looking forward part can wait, at least for one day.
Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014, a picturesque afternoon in the nation’s capital, brought a sense of history to a town built upon extraordinary achievements. Jordan Zimmermann, the stoic leader of a dominant pitching staff, entered Game No. 162 of the regular season looking to log a few innings of work as a tune-up for the playoffs.
Instead, he threw the first no-hitter in Nationals history.
Zimmermann, 28 years old with the number 27 on his back, turned in a performance worthy of the history books. The right-hander struck out 10 Miami Marlins, walked just one and needed just 104 pitches to complete his effort. He became the third D.C.-based hurler to record a no-hitter, following in the footsteps of Hall of Famer Walter Johnson (July 1, 1920) and the less-heralded Bobby Burke (Aug. 8, 1931).
He also needed help from his defense.
Rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., inserted by manager Matt Williams into left field in the top of the ninth inning with the Nationals still clinging to a 1-0 lead, made one of the finest game-ending catches in Nationals history. The 6-foot-4, 224-pound thoroughbred reacted quickly as Marlins leadoff hitter Christian Yelich drove a 2-1 fastball deep toward the gap in left-center, turning and galloping back and to his left as the ball hurtled through the air. Gaining ground on the deep liner, Souza Jr. left his feet, glove on his left hand outstretched, his open right hand ready to protect the ball, his body nearly horizontal to the ground.
The crowd of 35,085, standing and roaring throughout the final inning, briefly fell silent. Zimmermann, whose head dropped upon contact, turned to watch the final few feet of the flight of the ball — and the final few feet of Souza Jr.’s leap.
Zimmermann raised both arms high, Souza Jr. raised his glove in the air, ball secure in its webbing, as teammates rushed toward the center of the diamond. For a surreal 30 seconds, Nationals Park became a deafeningly loud sea of high-fives, with families sharing memories and strangers hugging red-clad strangers, beneath the canopy of a perfect, blue, late-September sky.
It was an immaculate ending. It could be a beautiful beginning. October awaits.