MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Ryan Zimmerman homered and drove in three runs in support of Stephen Strasburg, who gave the Washington Nationals six strong innings to beat the Minnesota Twins 6-2 on Wednesday night for just their third win in the last nine games.
Juan Soto and Zimmerman hit RBI singles in the first inning against Martín Pérez, who fell further behind in the third when Howie Kendrick doubled in Soto with two outs and Zimmerman followed with his two-run smash into the left field seats for a 5-0 lead.
Zimmerman, the all-time Nationals leader in almost every offensive category, added a few more to the pile with his second three-hit game of the season. The 34-year-old Zimmerman missed 90 games due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot, but he has three homers and 10 RBIs in seven games this month since returning.
Strasburg (17-6) gave up a two-run homer to Jorge Polanco in the third, but he allowed only four hits and two walks with seven strikeouts. The Nationals are 113-17 in his career when scoring three or more runs while he's in the game. In his last five turns, Strasburg has a 1.91 ERA with 19 hits and 44 strikeouts in 33 innings.
Trea Turner added a late home run to pad the lead for the worst bullpen in the majors. Four relievers kept the Twins from scoring, despite two runners reaching base in both the eighth and ninth.
The Nationals, who trailed Atlanta by 9½ games entering the evening in the National League East, took a 2½-game cushion between them and the Chicago Cubs for the two wild card spots. They were 3½ games above the cut, ahead of Milwaukee.
The Twins took a five-game lead on Cleveland in the American League Central, and six fewer losses than the Indians, into the night. The Indians were playing at the Los Angeles Angels. After the Twins finish with the Nationals on Thursday, when the Indians are idle, the division rivals will start their last head-to-head series of the season in Cleveland on Friday.
Pérez (10-7) didn't help their cause. Coming off one of his best starts of the season, a 2-1 win at Boston, he finished five innings with six hits, five runs and three walks allowed and four strikeouts.
Coaches and players for both teams stood on the foul lines, opening day-style, next to 45 first responders from area police, fire and emergency medical service departments in a pregame recognition of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. For Nationals manager Dave Martinez, the memory was particularly poignant, since he was playing first base for the Braves in the first game in New York after the twin towers fell when Mike Piazza hit a goosebump-inducing homer in the eighth inning.
"I just kind of stood back and just watched him drive by me like, 'Oh, wow, just listen,'" Martinez said. "You can hear the fans. You look in the stands, and people were crying. There were so many people from the fire department and police department there at the game, and it was something."
Nationals: RHP Joe Ross, who hurt his forearm during a bullpen session last week and was scratched from his last start in favor of RHP Austin Voth, will remain out of the rotation for now.
"We're going to take this really slow with him because of his history, but he's doing better," Martinez said.
Twins: 1B C.J. Cron (thumb), 3B Miguel Sano (back), RF Max Kepler (shoulder) and corner IF/OF Marwin Gonzalez (abdominal area) were on the bench again, with the team continuing the cautious approach toward injuries. With Byron Buxton (shoulder) out for the season and Jake Cave (groin) still working his way back, too, Eddie Rosario was in RF instead of LF. He took awkward route toward Kendrick's double, a hard-hit but reachable ball that could've been caught to end the inning.
Nationals: LHP Patrick Corbin (11-7, 3.16 ERA) will pitch on Thursday. The two-time All-Star is 6-2 with a 2.29 ERA over his last 15 starts, with a .208 batting average against and 116 strikeouts in 94 1/3 innings. He has never faced the Twins before.
Twins: RHP Kyle Gibson (13-6, 4.58 ERA) will take the mound for the series finale, his first turn in almost two weeks because of weakness from ulcerative colitis, a digestive track disease that has caused him to lose 10 pounds during this trying season. Taking a more aggressive anti-inflammatory medication has helped Gibson feel better lately and regain some strength he needs for his delivery to properly push with his legs.
"It just takes a lot of the tax off of my upper body," Gibson said.