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Before no-no ended, Zim's dive was The Play

@AJCassavell
October 12, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- Had Aníbal Sánchez etched his name in baseball history as one of three men to pitch a postseason no-hitter, Ryan Zimmerman's eighth-inning diving catch might have been worthy of a statue outside Nationals Park. There would be no no-hitter for Sanchez on Friday night. And thus, no

ST. LOUIS -- Had Aníbal Sánchez etched his name in baseball history as one of three men to pitch a postseason no-hitter, Ryan Zimmerman's eighth-inning diving catch might have been worthy of a statue outside Nationals Park.

There would be no no-hitter for Sanchez on Friday night. And thus, no statue. But if anything, José Martínez's two-out single later in the frame made Zimmerman's diving play even more essential to the Nationals' 2-0 win in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series on Friday night.

Washington now sits three wins from its first trip to the World Series, and Zimmerman's defensive heroics were a major reason why.

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 11 WSH 2, STL 0 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 12 WSH 3, STL 1 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 14 WSH 8, STL 1 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 15 WSH 7, STL 4 Watch

"I don’t care if he has a no-hitter or not, as long as we win the game," Zimmerman said postgame. "Obviously, you’re doing everything you can. What he’s done and the way he’s throwing the ball, you’re trying to preserve [the no-hitter] any way you can. But more important was just getting that win."

Over seven hitless innings, Sánchez didn’t ask for much help from his defense. The veteran right-hander baffled Cardinals hitters with painted fastballs and a blend of four offspeed pitches.

But when Tommy Edman led off the eighth with a liner that seemed ticketed for right field, Zimmerman was there -- one grizzled 35-year-old vet backing up another. The first baseman went full-extension and corralled the ball as he crashed to the infield dirt, silencing Busch Stadium. According to Statcast, Edman’s liner had an expected batting average of .550.

That’s when Sánchez began to wonder.

“Always behind a no-hitter a good play has to happen,” he said with a wry smile. “... When Zimmerman caught the ball, I said, ‘OK, I’ve got it.’”

Martínez had other ideas, and two batters later Sánchez’s night was done. But Sean Doolittle quickly escaped the threat, getting Dexter Fowler to ground out to third.

Doolittle worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning to secure the victory. The Cardinals offense never seriously threatened all night. Had Edman’s liner found the right-field corner, things might have been a little different.

“When you have a two-run lead or a small lead like that, getting that leadoff guy is huge,” Zimmerman said. “It takes away a lot of the things that the other team can do.”

With the lefty Edman at the plate, the Nationals stationed three defenders on the right side of second base. Zimmerman hugged the foul line, meaning any liner to his left would be foul. There was only one direction he’d need to react.

“I’m pretty close to the line,” Zimmerman said. “Anything hard to my right is the only thing I have to go after. I basically know I’m responsible for the four-hole on hard hit balls.

“Then you kind of see it in the air and go for it. It’s either me or nobody.”

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.