WASHINGTON -- Ryan Zimmerman didn't toss his helmet and dive into a pile of teammates. After all, this was only a game-ending single, instead of another game-ending homer.
The Washington Nationals rookie won the game in the last at-bat Thursday for the third time in less than three weeks, hitting a 3-1 fastball sharply up the middle with two outs in the 11th inning in an 8-7 victory over the Florida Marlins.
Zimmerman entered the game leading the National League with 34 hits with runners in scoring position, and he has hit game-ending homers on Father's Day and Independence Day -- and both times actually did throw his helmet and dive into a mob. This game-winning hit gave him 58 RBI, tops among all rookies in the majors.
"He's not a rookie anymore, with what he's doing right now," said closer Chad Cordero, who pitched two innings for the victory in another wild game at RFK Stadium. "Rookies sometimes crack up under that type of pressure, but he just seems to feed off of it."
Actually, Zimmerman could have tipped his hat -- to Cordero (5-3) and the rest of the Nationals bullpen. After losing 18-9 to the Marlins the night before, Washington's position was precarious after workhorse Livan Hernandez exited in the second inning with seven runs allowed.
"You had to like the bullpen. They did an exceptional job today," manager Frank Robinson said. "They won the ballgame for us, really."
The Nationals won three of four from the Marlins, who were left to think about how they could lose a game in which they scored so many runs so early. Well, first of all, rookie starter Anibal Sanchez allowed five runs in the first, while errors by left fielder Josh Willingham in the seventh and shortstop Hanley Ramirez led to the Nationals unearned runs that tied and won the game.
Not to mention that fact that the Marlins walked 12 batters, four intentionally.
"We stunk," manager Joe Girardi said. "That's what it came down to. We gave them the game. We made errors, we hit a guy, we gave them runs. This is the way we pitched in May. We weren't aggressive. And if we're going to pitch this way, we're not going to win games. It's impossible.
"When you walk people, your defense gets sloppy. I don't know why, but it's a proven fact. We can't walk people. I'd rather get beat 18-0 with no walks."
The loser was Jason Vargas (1-2), who was recalled from Triple-A Albuquerque earlier in the day. He was in a hole once Brian Schneider opened the 11th by reaching base when Ramirez booted a routine grounder. Pinch-hitter Robert Fick, the last position player available on Robinson's bench, sacrificed Schneider to second.
"You can't get too excited," Zimmerman said. "I've just got to wait for him to make the mistakes. He's probably just as nervous and doesn't want to make a mistake as much as you don't. If you wait, you'll probably get a pitch to hit."
Zimmerman failed when he had a chance to win it in the ninth, popping up with two out and men on second and third. The Marlins had an even better opportunity to win in the ninth, but Bray retired three straight batters after his three-base throwing error allowed Reggie Abercrombie to get to third with none out.
Nationals starter Hernandez suffered through another miserable outing, matching a career-low by lasting only 1 2/3 innings for the second time in three games. Willingham hit his first career triple, Sanchez got his first career hit and RBI, and Mike Jacobs hit an upper-deck home run as the Marlins sent 10 men to bat in the second.
With the starters failing to last two innings in back-to-back games, the Nationals bullpen is running thin. Robinson had one message for Friday's starter for the series opener against San Diego.
"Ramon Ortiz: Good luck," the manager said.
- The last time Nationals starters failed to last two innings in back-to-back games was in 1997, when Montreal's Jose Paniagua went one inning against San Francisco on Aug. 17 and Carlos Perez was done after 1 2/3 innings against St. Louis two days later.
- Nationals RF Jose Guillen was back in the lineup after being scratched from Wednesday's game with a sore elbow. He was replaced in the field by Damian Jackson with two outs in the 11th.
- Two players recalled by the Nationals from Triple-A in the last 24 hours both got into the game. Escobar pinch-hit in the third and took Marlon Anderson's spot in center field after Anderson missed a cutoff man and made an error trying to field a base hit. LHP Bowie relieved Hernandez in the second inning.