WASHINGTON -- After Bryce Harper delivered the no-doubter that awoke the Nationals' bats from their slumber, Ryan Zimmerman once again left no doubt about his knack for creating some of the greatest moments in the history of an organization that will forever count him among its legends.
Staring at the possibility of heading to Chicago on the brink of elimination, the Nationals turned the tide while powering their way through a memorable five-run eighth inning in a 6-3 win over the Cubs in Game 2 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile. Harper ignited a scuffling offense with a monstrous, game-tying home run, and Zimmerman capped the eruption by launching what may prove to be the most influential of the many home runs he has hit while playing his entire 13-year career for Washington.
Harper created the first wow moment Saturday when he produced a 109-mph exit velocity with the 421-foot home run he sent to right field's second deck against Carl Edwards Jr.'s elevated curveball. But it was the 33-year-old Zimmerman, who fittingly delivered the decisive blow when he turned on Mike Montgomery's changeup and then anxiously made his way toward first base not knowing whether the ball had landed in Ben Zobrist's glove or the flower bed beyond the left-field wall.
For a split-second, there was reason to at least wonder if Zobrist had made a leaping catch against the wall.
"From my angle [in the bullpen], I couldn't tell what was going on," Nationals closer Sean Doolittle said. "He hit it, and the place goes nuts. [Zimmerman] was kind of standing there, and I couldn't tell if he was admiring it or trying to keep it fair, or if he wasn't sure about it or not. It felt like it was in the air forever."
Per Statcast™ data, Zimmerman's game-winning, three-run homer had a 104.5-mph exit velocity and 38 degree launch angle. This combination has resulted in a home run less than 60 percent of the time since the start of the 2015 season. But there is more like a 100 percent chance Nationals fans will forever simply remember the significance of this homer if they are able to experience the NL Championship Series for the first time in franchise history.
And if this does prove to be the most significant homer hit during this best-of-five series that is now even, it was only fitting that it was hit by Zimmerman, who stands as the first Draft pick in Nationals history and a mainstay in Washington's lineup since debuting near the end of the 2005 season. Not that he was pondering such history as he rounded the bases.
"I couldn't tell you anything about that run around the bases," Zimmerman said. "I think, obviously, this franchise over the past five years, has changed a lot. We used to lose 90 games every year, and now we're expected to win 90 games, and if we're not successful in the postseason, it's a failed season."
Much of the Nationals' success this year can be attributed to Zimmerman, whose career-best 36 homers equaled his combined total from the three previous seasons. His improvement can be attributed to the adjustments Daniel Murphy helped him make to improve his launch angle.
Zimmerman stood as one of 12 Major Leaguers to record 50 barrels this year, and his average launch angle on barreled balls rose from 24.8 degrees in 2016 to 25.2 degrees this year. Though the difference might appear to be slight, the effect of the adjustments might have been enough to turn what might have been a long fly ball into a home run that Nationals fans might forever savor.
"It couldn't happen to a finer guy," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "He's a franchise guy here. Bryce is coming on strong. But it's great to have Zim come through in those situations, because he's been known to come through for years and years, you know, especially late in the game like that. You could tell he was psyched, and the fans are psyched; everybody was psyched except probably Chicago people."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.