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‘Dirtball’ gives Nats 3-2 win over Reds

WASHINGTON (AP) — Standing on third base with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning, Ryan Zimmerman still was bummed about the two plays he failed to make in the field earlier Thursday for the Washington Nationals.

Knowing that the Cincinnati Reds’ relievers are prone to throwing “dirtballs,” Zimmerman was aware that Alfredo Simon might very well miss his mark. Sure enough, Simon threw a wild pitch, and Zimmerman raced home, helping the Nationals extend their best start since moving to Washington with a 3-2 victory over the Reds.

Scoring the winning run made Zimmerman able to get over the two balls that got past him while he played third, one in the eighth inning, and one in the ninth — the latter allowing Ryan Ludwick to deliver a tying two-run single for Cincinnati.

“If we had lost that game,” Zimmerman said, “it would have been hard for me to sleep tonight.”

Instead, the Nationals improved to 5-2, good for first place in the NL East, and treating an announced sellout crowd of 40,907 to a win in the home opener for the first time since 2008.

Craig Stammen (1-0) struck out the side in the 10th for the win, needing all of 10 pitches for those three outs.

“We don’t give in. We don’t give up,” said Jayson Werth, who singled in the 10th one out after Zimmerman reached base when Simon (0-1) hit him with a pitch.

“It’s a long season. A lot can happen,” Werth said. “But I like the way we’ve started.”

The Nationals never had been better than 3-4 through seven games since they moved to Washington in 2005. They’re hoping to build on last season’s improvement, when they finished 80-81 and in third place in the NL East.

“We’re showing signs of great life here,” said Washington starter Gio Gonzalez, who struck out seven and didn’t walk a batter in seven shutout innings.

He even added his first major league hit, for good measure, a blooper of a single to left off Mat Latos with one out in the fifth, then rolled his neck, smiled broadly and chuckled a bit while standing on the bag at first.

“I’m glad to get the first one out of the way,” Gonzalez said.

Thanks to Adam LaRoche’s two-run single with the bases loaded in the fifth, the Nationals took a 2-0 lead into the ninth, but Brad Lidge blew the save. Lidge is sharing closer duties for Washington with Henry Rodriguez because Drew Storen had surgery Wednesday and will be out for months.

With one out, Lidge walked Joey Votto, then gave up Scott Rolen’s double and intentionally walked Jay Bruce to load the bases. The free pass didn’t work, even though Nationals manager Davey Johnson liked the odds when he saw Ludwick send a hopper toward Zimmerman, a 2009 NL Gold Glove recipient.

“When that ball was hit down his way, I was happy as a clam,” Johnson said. “Tough hop.”

It scooted past Zimmerman, allowing the Reds to make it 2-2.

“Those are plays that I expect myself to make,” Zimmerman said, “and I hope my teammataes expect me to make those plays as well.”

But Zimmerman got a chance to make amends. He was at third with Roger Bernadina at the plate, when Simon threw an 0-1 pitch in the dirt. Bernadina at first held up a hand, as if to tell Zimmerman not to run. Not even noticing that, Zimmerman took off and slid under the tag after catcher Devin Mesoraco collected the ball and threw to Simon.

“That’s a good read from ‘Zim,”’ Bernadina said.

Said Simon: “I just tried to throw the ball down. It got away. Nothing we can do.”

Reds manager Dusty Baker lamented that his bullpen options were limited. Aroldis Chapman worked two innings on Wednesday, and Logan Ondrusek already had appeared in five games — so both were off-limits. Plus, Baker wanted to save closer Sean Marshall for a possible save situation.

“That was a tough way to lose a game,” Baker said. “We were in a tough spot there.”

NOTES: Cincinnati, still without injured 2B Brandon Phillips, has scored eight runs in its past four games.

Phillips sat out a third consecutive game because of a left hamstring injury. Baker doesn’t expect Phillips to play before Sunday. … Zimmerman made a diving reflex catch on Ludwick’s liner leading off the fifth. … A moment of silence was observed in memory of late Hall of Famer Gary Carter during the pregame ceremonies. A video montage of Carter playing for the Montreal Expos — the franchise that moved to Washington in 2005 — and the New York Mets was shown on the scoreboard. Carter died at age 57 in February from a brain tumor. … On Friday night, the Nationals will start RHP Jordan Zimmermann against Reds RHP Bronson Arroyo. … “Dancing with the Stars” champion J.R. Martinez threw out the ceremonial first pitch.