Zimmerman's walk-off grand slam ends rain-delayed game

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The final pitch was thrown more than 6 1/2 hours after the first one, thanks to two rain delays, and there were about as many fans in the stands as players in the dugouts when Ryan Zimmerman stepped in to face Jorge Julio.

There were two outs in the bottom of the ninth of a 3-3 game, the bases were loaded, and Julio brushed back Zimmerman with an up-and-in fastball.

"I kind of spun out and smiled a little bit and got back in there," Zimmerman said, "and realized I was in the driver's seat now."

Julio's second pitch was another fastball, and Zimmerman was waiting for it. He drove the ball to center field for a grand slam that lifted the Washington Nationals to a 7-3 victory over the Florida Marlins in a game that began Saturday and ended at 1:42 a.m. Sunday after more than 3 1/2 hours of interruptions by rain.

"It was worthwhile waiting for it," Nationals rookie manager Manny Acta said.

He could have been referring to all manner of things: the drawn-out victory; Washington's first series win of 2007; or a clutch hit from his third baseman, who was runner-up in NL Rookie of the Year voting last season but entered Saturday with a .257 average, one homer and nine RBIs.

"This is what we needed," Acta said. "We needed Zimmerman to step up for us and carry us. Because he's our main guy here."

Both of Zimmerman's homers have been grand slams -- and both came against Florida. He preferred to talk about his club's success.

"You have so many rain delays, so many big pitches, big hits," Zimmerman said, "and then to kind of finish it off, I think kind of shows what this team is all about."

Florida led 3-2 heading into the bottom of the ninth, which was delayed 47 minutes by the second strong shower of the game. The Marlins sent Taylor Tankersley (2-1) out to try to earn his first save of the season.

But he loaded the bases with two walks and a single, then gave up Felipe Lopez's RBI single to tie it at 3-3.

"There's no excuse. I didn't do my job. I blew it. We lost. That's all there is to it," Tankersley said.

After Cristian Guzman struck out for the second out, Julio entered, and Zimmerman delivered.

"Ones like that are tough to lose," said Austin Kearns, who cut Washington's deficit to 3-2 in the sixth by hitting the first inside-the-park homer by a Nationals player -- and first for the Expos-Nationals franchise since 2003.

While Nationals players spilled out of their dugout to celebrate, Julio walked off with his head bowed. He wasn't interested in dissecting his performance for reporters.

"What do you want to talk to me right now, man -- about baseball?" he said. "That's it, game over."

"We played eight innings of real good baseball really in tough conditions, but you've got to get 27 outs," Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "There's no shot clock or the clock running out or any of that stuff. You've got to throw the ball over the plate and we didn't do that in the ninth inning."

Jon Rauch (2-0) earned the win by pitching a scoreless top of the ninth.

Florida had taken a 3-1 lead when five consecutive Marlins reached base as play resumed in the fifth inning after a nearly three-hour delay. The game had been tied 1-1 with one out in the top of the fifth when what had been a drizzle turned into strong rain as Washington starter Matt Chico faced Hanley Ramirez. With the count 2-2, play was halted at 8:25 p.m.

There later was thunder and lightning, and a puddle about 30 feet wide formed in shallow left field. The showers subsided, and a tiny fraction of the announced attendance of 19,278 remained when Ramirez returned to the batter's box at 11:16 p.m., ending a pause of 2 hours, 51 minutes.

Reliever Levale Speigner replaced Chico, and his very first pitch was blooped into shallow right by Ramirez. Dan Uggla's tiebreaking RBI double followed. After Miguel Cabrera was walked intentionally, Josh Willingham singled to load the bases, and Aaron Boone's RBI single made it 3-1. But Speigner -- who will make his first major league start Wednesday, filling in for the injured Shawn Hill -- came back to strike out the next two batters.

"That was a big inning to get out of," Speigner said, "and at least keep it closer than it could have been."

And set up Zimmerman for the big finish to a long night.

Game notes
The Marlins tied a club record with eight doubles. ... Endy Chavez had the last inside-the-park homer for the Expos, on June 20, 2003, against Toronto. ... Nationals 1B Dmitri Young (left Achilles) missed a fourth consecutive start. He had a pinch-hit single in the ninth.