ST. LOUIS — Baseball does not always need meaning to matter. In the ninth inning, Ryan Zimmerman stood on deck as Busch Stadium came alive. The crowd roared for Michael Wacha, the 22-year-old St. Louis Cardinals rookie right-hander. As Zimmerman walked to the plate, the Washington Nationals’ irrelevance in the standings faded away. “That was like a big-time playoff atmosphere,” Zimmerman said later.
One night after the Nationals’ hopes met mathematical elimination, Zimmerman had found something unexpected to play for: not being the last victim of Wacha’s no-hitter. Wacha pitched a no-hitter for 26 outs. He came within one out — within one inch twice on the play — from throwing a no-hitter against them in the Nationals’ 2-0 defeat.
The Nationals avoided being no-hit for the first time since baseball returned to Washington only on the most heart-wrenching of hits, on Zimmerman’s chopper over the mound and off Wacha’s glove. Shortstop Pete Kozma, a villain forever in Washington because of his postseason heroics last year, barehanded the ball and fired on the run. His throw pulled Matt Adams off first base, and Zimmerman snuck behind his sweep tag by a few inches.