Sunday September 28th, 2014

Jordan Zimmermann and the Nationals are entering the postseason on a serious roll.

On Sunday, the young righthander made history for the Nats, no-hitting the Marlins on the season's final day in Washington's 1-0 win. It's the team's first no-hitter since moving to Washington from Montreal, with backup outfielder Steven Souza making a spectacular diving catch on the final out of the ninth inning to preserve the no-no.

Zimmermann was dealing from the very first pitch, retiring the first 14 Marlins in order before a walk to Justin Bour in the fifth inning. Bour and Garrett Jones were the only two Marlins to reach base; Jones struck out with two outs in the seventh inning, but advanced to first base on a wild pitch. He was picked off to end the frame, however, meaning that Zimmermann faced just one batter over the minimum for the game.

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Working primarily with his fastball and slider, Zimmermann flummoxed Miami, picking up 10 strikeouts, nine of them swinging. The 28-year-old righty needed just 104 pitches to complete his no-hitter, getting a swing-and-miss on 19 of them. But he also got some help from his defense, in particular Souza, whose last-second grab saved the no-hitter.

Zimmermann started the ninth with a groundout from Adeiny Hechavarria and a fly ball to center field from pinch-hitter Jarrod Saltalamacchia. He then ran the count to 2-1 on Christian Yelich. With his fourth pitch, Zimmermann left a fastball up, which Yelich drove to left field. As the ball rocketed up and arced back down, Souza -- who came into the game that inning as a defensive replacement for Ryan Zimmerman -- reached over his head and laid out, crashing to the ground with the ball firmly secured in his glove. A disbelieving Zimmermann pumped his fists on the mound as his teammates swarmed him to celebrate.

The no-hitter is the fifth this season and the fourth for a starter, as Zimmermann joined Josh Beckett (May 25 against the Phillies), Clayton Kershaw (June 18 against the Rockies) and Tim Lincecum (June 25 against the Padres). The other no-hitter belongs to Cole Hamels and three members of the Phillies' bullpen, who combined to blank the Braves back on Sept. 1. It's the first season with five or more no-hitters since 2012, when the feat was accomplished seven times.

For the Nationals, Zimmermann's no-hitter is the first for the team in Washington, and the first for the franchise since Dennis Martinez threw a perfect game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 28, 1991 as a member of the Expos. Montreal has four no-hitters to its credit, two by Bill Stoneman. The previous incarnation of the Washington Nationals -- the Senators -- had two pitchers toss no-hitters: Walter Johnson against the Red Sox on July 1, 1920, and Bobby Burke, also against the Red Sox, on Aug. 8, 1931.

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This is the second season in a row featuring a final-game no-hitter. Last year, the Marlins' Henderson Alvarez no-hit the Tigers in Miami on Sept. 29 in a 1-0 win. As fate would have it, Alvarez was on the mound Sunday opposite Zimmermann, though he didn't come particularly close to matching his counterpart, allowing 11 hits and one run in seven innings.

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While Zimmermann's historic day will grab the headlines, his stellar outing is just one more for a Nationals pitching staff that has been destroying offenses all month. Since the start of September, Washington has a rotation ERA of 2.25 in 172 innings, with 136 strikeouts against just 26 walks. Zimmermann (1.32), Stephen Strasburg (1.13) and Doug Fister (1.87) have led the charge, with Tanner Roark (2.45) and Gio Gonzalez (2.48) not far behind. And this last week has been especially impressive for the foursome that figures to make up the Nats' playoff rotation (Strasburg, Fister, Zimmermann, Gonzalez): a combined 31 innings, six hits and 38 strikeouts with no earned runs allowed.

Zimmermann's win caps the Nationals season at 96-66, their second season out of the last three with 96 or more victories. Washington, which clinched home-field advantage for the division series and championship series, will face the winner of Wednesday's Wild Card Game between the Pirates and Giants in the NLDS. It's likely that Strasburg will be on the mound for Game 1, but as Zimmermann's brilliant Sunday proved, the Nationals have a frightening abundance of terrific starting options for the postseason.

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