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Zimmerman walks Nats off into first-place tie


Zimmerman walks Nats off into first-place tie

On Tuesday night in bottom of the 10th inning, with one of the best relievers in baseball on the mound and a chance to close the gap on first place for the first time this season, the Nationals had a rather fortuitous turn of the lineup as they aimed for their 11th comeback win of the year.

Yunel Escobar led off with a walk and behind him awaited the hottest hitter in baseball. The focus of the 37,355 in attendance at Nationals Park closed in on a matchup of titanic lefties.

One the best slugger in the National League at this very moment. The other a towering 6-foot-7 lefty who mixes mid-90s heat with a slider that comes across his body like a tidal wave.

With Bryce Harper and Andrew Miller of the Yankees going at it, however, on deck waiting his turn was one of the most clutch hitters in baseball history. Ryan Zimmerman watched Harper strike out on a 3-2 slider and then proceeded to hand the Nationals a victory with his 10th career walk-off home run.

Zimmerman is only 30 years old, yet he's already only three behind the all-time leader, Jim Thome, who has 13 walk-off homers. Right behind Thome with 12 are guys like Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial and Frank Robinson. The only active players with more than Zimmerman are David Ortiz and Albert Pujols, who each have 11.

That's not bad company for Zimmerman, who for much of his career has battled injuries and at times played with a lot less talent surrounding him than Mantle and Ruth had.

"I'm just lucky to be in that situation that much. It's obviously special, and something that once I'm done, I think I'll look back on and appreciate a lot more," Zimmerman said. "Right now, I'm just happy for the win and be able to do something to help us win games. That's the important thing."

Zimmerman may not be able to appreciate it fully quite yet, but his coaches and teammates sure can.

"Pretty special isn't it? You don't realize things like that until it's pointed out," manager Matt Williams said.

"It just means that he knows what he's doing. He hits to the situation like he did tonight. He got ahead in the count and got a good pitch to hit. He's got power to all fields."

"It's amazing. He's not a real emotional guy. He just doesnt get caught up in the moment and try to do too much," Drew Storen said. "So he just goes up there and has a professional at-bat, no matter what. Obviously, more times than not, it works out pretty well for him. It's a lot of fun to watch."

Zimmerman's first walk-off home run also happened to come against the Yankees, that one on Father's Day of 2006. This homer was a winding line drive to right field that bounced off the foul pole.

"It was real fair at the beginning, and at the very end it started to take a right turn. I knew I hit it good enough, it was just gonna be a matter of whether it stays fair, and I got lucky to hit the pole and sometimes you just get lucky," he said.

Zimmerman raised his right fist in the air as he ran from first to second and was doused with Gatorade at home plate. Then, as part of a new custom for walk-off wins, he was drenched with chocolate sauce by starter Max Scherzer.

This was Zimmerman's first time getting chocolate sauced and he's not sure what to think of it.

"It's alright. That was a pretty aggressive celebration. But that's Max, so it's good," he said.

Everything feels better when you're in first place, or tied for it as the Nationals stand after Tuesday's 8-6 win. After starting the year 7-13, the Nats are 16-4 since. They made up an eight-game division deficit in just 22 days.

"We knew we were gonna play baseball like we were supposed to. There's gonna be times where you don't play good like we did at the beginning of the year, the key is obviously to not have long stretches like that," Zimmerman said.

"When it happens at the beginning of the year, everyone overreacts and puts too much into it. We just kind of stayed the course, kept working hard and doing what we do every day and knew it would turn around."

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May the odds be ever in your favor: Vegas sets over/unders for 2018 MLB season

May the odds be ever in your favor: Vegas sets over/unders for 2018 MLB season

The start of spring training is a glimmer of hope during the cold of winter. It means warm weather, cold beers and hot dogs at the ballpark are coming your way.

It's our first chance to get a taste of how our favorite team is shaping up for the 2018 season, and for those who are not quite into just the game itself, betting odds.

CG Technology, a Las Vegas sportsbook operator, has set the 2018 odds for each MLB team.

Specifically, how are things looking for the local teams?


Washington Nationals: 91 1/2 wins

The 2018 season is looked at by many as the last World Series run for some time for the Nationals and their core group of players. Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez will become free agents after the 2018 season in addition to general manager and President of Baseball Operations, Mike Rizzo.

In 2017, the team won 97 games and went on to win the NL East, but couldn't make it past the first-round of the National League Division Series. In 2018, Vegas is giving the Nats 7/2 odds of taking the National League title. They are just behind the Chicago Cubs, who knocked them out of contention last season, at 4/1 odds.

As far as winning the World Series, Vegas is giving the guys an 8/1 chance of their first title, tied with the Cubs.

Baltimore Orioles: 77 1/2 wins

The O's finished the 2017 season with 75 wins, which could be considered somewhat of an accomplishment considering their pitching resources.

The same problem will occur in 2018 as the organization hasn't signed any new starting pitchers. Vegas is giving them 50/1 odds of taking the American League title and 100/1 odds of winning the World Series.

The lack of depth in their rotation will come back to bite them as division rival New York Yankees have 5/1 odds of winning the World Series and the Red Sox have 10/1 odds.

A below average season should be expected.

A few other standouts, good and bad, include the Miami Marlins at 500/1 odds of winning the World Series, the Kansas City Royals at 200/1 and current champions, the Houston Astros, at 6/1 odds.


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Former Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza arrested with more than 40 pounds of suspected cocaine


Former Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza arrested with more than 40 pounds of suspected cocaine

SAN DIEGO — Former All-Star pitcher Esteban Loaiza has been arrested on suspicion of trafficking drugs after packages containing a white powder believed to be cocaine were found at a home he rented in Southern California, officials said Monday.

The 46-year-old former Major League Baseball player was booked Friday on charges involving the possession, transport and sale of 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of suspected cocaine worth an estimated $500,000, according to the San Diego Sheriff's Department.

Loaiza played for numerous teams between 1995 and 2008, starting with the Pittsburgh Pirates and concluding with his second stint with the Chicago White Sox. He had a 21-9 record with the Chicago White Sox in 2003 and started in the All-Star Game that year.


He also played one season for the Washington Nationals in 2005 — the team's inaugural season in D.C. after the franchise changed from the Montreal Expos. During his one season in Washington, Loaiza finished with a 12-10 record adn a 3.77 ERA over 34 games played that year.

It was not immediately known if Loaiza had hired a lawyer and the former player could not be reached to comment. He was being held Monday for lack of $200,000 bail pending a court appearance on Wednesday.

Loaiza's agent, John Boggs, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he had no information about the arrest and that he has not spoken to Loaiza recently. He said that Loaiza had called his office early last week but Boggs was unavailable at the time.

"I am shocked and saddened by the news and had no indication he would ever be in this type of situation," Boggs said in a text to the newspaper. "I don't know how he would get himself involved in this, so it's difficult to even comment on it."

Officers stopped Loaiza for a minor traffic infraction Friday after he left the home he started renting recently in the Pacific coast community of Imperial Beach, along the U.S.-Mexico border. Authorities had the vehicle under surveillance on suspicion it was used for smuggling drugs.

When they searched the vehicle, they found a sophisticated compartment used to conceal contraband, authorities said. That led them to obtain a search warrant for Loaiza's rental home, where they found the packages of drugs, according to investigators.

The packages containing a white powder are still being tested but are believed to be cocaine, said San Diego Sheriff's Lt. Jason Vickery.

Loaiza was born in Tijuana, Mexico and was married for two years to the late Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera. She filed for divorce shortly before she died in a plane crash in 2012.

The 43-year-old Rivera was known as the "Diva de la Banda" and died as her career was peaking. She was perhaps the most successful female singer in grupero, a male-dominated Mexico regional style, sold more than 15 million records, and moved into acting and reality television.

Loaiza sued the aircraft's owners in 2014 for wrongful death but her relatives accused him of trying to profit from her death. He denied the accusations and later retracted his lawsuit.

NBC Sports Washington contributed to this report.