WASHINGTON -- For much of this season, the Nationals have looked like a team struggling to stay afloat. They entered Tuesday's game after dipping below the .500 mark, a preseason World Series favorite floundering two months into the season.
Perhaps this was the night that will change all of that.
It wasn't simply that the Nationals beat the Mets, 3-2, at Nationals Park on Tuesday night. It was how they won. After mustering only four hits in eight innings, the Nats pounced on Mets closer Bobby Parnell, loaded the bases and won in walk-off fashion for the first time this season.
After fouling off three straight fastballs, Steve Lombardozzi hit a sacrifice fly to left field. Adam LaRoche tagged at third base and headed home. As he crossed the plate, the Nationals streamed from the dugout, led by outfielder Jayson Werth, who returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing the past 28 games with a strained right hamstring.
"[This] is what it's all about," Werth said. "That's why you play, for those moments right there."
The Nationals trailed, 2-1, and were down to their last three outs when Ryan Zimmerman smacked a double to deep center field and advanced to third on a wild pitch by Parnell. LaRoche singled to right to score Zimmerman and tie the game, and Ian Desmond also doubled to put runners on second and third.
The Mets intentionally walked Roger Bernadina to load the bases and set the table for Lombardozzi, who battled through eight pitches before sending the ninth to left field, bringing home the game-winner.
"I love being up with the guys in scoring position," Lombardozzi said. "That was my first walk-off, personally, so that was pretty neat. Those are the situations you dream of."
The Nats likely would not have even been in a position to come back at all had it not been for another stellar outing by right-handed starter Jordan Zimmermann. Zimmermann has emerged as the Nationals' most reliable starter this season, and that trend continued on Tuesday. He allowed just two unearned runs in an error-laden fifth inning, struck out four batters and walked just one.
Zimmermann threw 101 pitches, including 71 strikes, but didn't get enough early run support to pick up his ninth win of the season. After a win like that, however, he didn't seem to mind.
"It was a huge win," Zimmermann said. "Everyone was down a little bit from the last road trip, if we would have dropped this one, it would've been a heartbreaker. We got it when we needed one."
The Nationals collected just one hit in the first four innings against Mets right-hander Jeremy Hefner, who entered the game with 1-5 record and 4.74 ERA, but they made that hit count. With one out in the second inning, Desmond smashed a solo home run to left field to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead.
Zimmermann showed good command of his fastball and was cruising until the fifth inning. After retiring five straight batters, the Nats' righty ran to cover first base on a slow roller by Jordany Valdespin and dropped the flip from LaRoche.
LaRoche made matters worse in the next at-bat of the inning, when his throw to second base pulled Desmond off the bag and allowed both Valdespin and Rick Ankiel to reach base. LaRoche was charged with the error, his fourth of the season.
After Hefner advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt, leadoff man Omar Quintanilla smoked a two-out, two-RBI triple into the right-field corner to give the Mets a 2-1 lead. Both runs were unearned.
"Typical ballgame where we didn't get much going, we didn't swing the bats, and then got some big hits late," manager Davey Johnson said. "That was a good key. Maybe that'll get us going."
The Nationals made an offensive push in the sixth. Denard Span hit a sharp grounder to the left side of the infield, where Quintanilla scooped up the ball but didn't have the arm strength to throw Span out.
Werth followed with a single to center, his first hit since coming off the disabled list earlier in the day, and LaRoche drew a two-out walk. With two outs and the bases loaded, Desmond grounded to third to end the inning.
"You have to have a lot of faith in yourself and you have to have a lot of faith, period," Desmond said. "That's what we have to keep on telling ourselves, is that we're going to have opportunities and you've just got to keep on moving forward."
Hefner retired the Nationals in order in the seventh before exiting the game with one earned run and seven strikeouts. Brandon Lyon followed suit in the eighth, inducing two flyouts and striking out Werth, before Parnell came on for the ninth. It was shaping up to be another tough loss.
Then Zimmerman stepped into the batter's box.
"That's the best thing about this team: I don't think we really panic," Zimmerman said. "There's a difference between panicking and doing the things the right way that we can. Everyone is going to go through periods where you don't play good. But I think everyone here knows it's been too long of a period."
After losing four of their past five games on the road, the Nationals returned home Tuesday as a team in transition. In a flurry of moves before the game, three players -- Danny Espinosa, Zach Duke and Henry Rodriguez -- cleaned out their lockers before Tuesday's series-opener against the Mets. Two others -- top prospect Anthony Rendon and left-hander Ian Krol -- arrived from the Minor Leagues. And Werth finally returned to the lineup with a presumably healthy hamstring.
General manager Mike Rizzo said that the Nationals didn't make those changes to jolt the lineup. But as the team rushed onto the field after a much-needed win, it seemed like that's exactly what happened.
"This room is full of gamers. Gamers get out, too. It's just a matter of time," Desmond said. "I'd rather it be early in the season than late in the season, I've said that before. But like I've said, we're getting better, we're getting better every day and we've just got to keep playing our type of baseball and things like this will happen more often."
Tom Schad is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.