Some pitchers can’t beat certain teams. In fact, they fail so spectacularly that it defies belief. Time after time against their hex team, they give up two or three times as many runs as they do against anybody else. Nobody knows why. The general outlines of the domination may make sense, but not the preposterous size of the drubbings. And the curse can persist for years, even when the personnel of the dreaded jinx team has changed.
Perhaps the most famous of all such hexes was Spahn’s inability to beat the Dodgers in Ebbets Field. From 1946 through ’57, Spahn won 224 games for the Boston and Milwaukee Braves in the eight-team National League. But only three of them were in Brooklyn. Yes, three.
The Ebbets Field bandbox, plus right-handed Dodgers sluggers, drove Spahn’s record there to 3-12. Finally, the Braves simply skipped his turn when the words “at Brooklyn” appeared on their schedule, even when they were fighting for a pennant.
Zimmermann surely doesn’t want to reach that dreaded category with the St. Louis Cardinals. But he’s working on it after a three-inning, five-run bludgeoning here in a 12-4 Nats loss in Game 2 of a tied NL Division Series.
The 26-year-old has been in the top 10 in ERA the last two years — 3.18 and 2.94. Against St. Louis in six career starts, three of them recent, his ERA is 9.76 with 45 hits in 282 / 3 innings. If he were tipping his pitches, or simply yelled, “Fastball low and away” before he delivered a pitch, no team could hit him this hard. But the Cardinals do.
Zimmermann won’t meet the Cards again in this series. But St. Louis isn’t leaving the NL any year soon. Future meetings for high stakes are likely.
Monday’s debacle ruined a chance for the Nats to make a run at a decisive two-games-to-none lead. The Cards’ starter, Jaime Garcia, might have suffered a shoulder injury and was so wild that he lasted only two innings. The Nats got back-to-back home runs from Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche and would have scored more than four runs with sensible base running.
But the Cards’ domination of Zimmermann made this a laugher, one that brought few smiles from the Nats’ starter. He does not like the Cardinals in a house or with a mouse, in a box or with a fox, in a car or in the dark. Jordan-I-Am does not like them anywhere. Okay, maybe on a train, if Dr. Seuss would let him throw the Redbirds under it.
“I didn’t do my part,” Zimmermann said after the game. “And I feel like if the starters don’t go and do their part, it kind of snowballs with the relievers.
“I had a good fastball. The off-speed was there,” he said. “I was just missing over the middle.”
There will be talk that Zimmermann is tired or this or that. None of it is true. If the Nats reach the NL Championship Series, he’ll be a no-pulse ace again. Guess who owns both the Reds and Giants? Yes, Zimmermann, with a 2.67 ERA in 10 starts.