ST. LOUIS (AP) - Ryan Zimmerman saw plenty of irony in his infield single that ended Michael Wacha's no-hit bid with two outs in the ninth inning.
``We hit balls on the screws all night long,' Zimmerman said. ``And that's the swing that breaks it up.'
Wacha pitched the St. Louis Cardinals past the Washington Nationals 2-0 on Tuesday night to close in on the NL Central title.
Making his ninth career start, Wacha came oh-so-close to finishing off the third no-hitter in the majors this season. Instead, the Busch Stadium crowd let out a loud, collective groan as the rookie became the third pitcher to have an attempt broken up with one out to go.
Zimmerman hit a chopper just over the 6-foot-6 Wacha, and the ball bounced slowly toward shortstop. A charging Pete Kozma grabbed it with his bare hand and whipped a throw to first that was a little wide, pulling Matt Adams off the bag as Zimmerman arrived.
``I think it nicked off my glove a little bit,' Wacha said.
Zimmerman, who has 11 homers this month, joked that he used his ``blazing speed' to beat out his 14th infield hit of the season.
``He pitched great. He really had his stuff going,' Zimmerman said.
The Nationals are an NL-best 30-14 since Aug. 9, but they dug themselves too deep a hole earlier in the season. Washington was eliminated from playoff contention with a 4-3 loss to St. Louis on Monday night.
``We're still (part of) a pennant race,' manager Davey Johnson said. ``Even if we're out of it, we really want to beat those guys.'
St. Louis has won all five meetings between the teams this season, after rallying to knock out the Nationals in an NL division series last year.
Johnson thinks his players can gain valuable experience in the spoiler role.
``It's great for these guys being in these kind of games,' he said. ``That will do nothing but help them.'
The last no-hitter against the Nationals franchise came before the club moved to Washington for the 2005 season. It was David Cone's perfect game for the New York Yankees against the Montreal Expos on July 18, 1999.
The 22-year-old Wacha (4-1) was pulled after Zimmerman's hit and walked off to a huge ovation. The right-hander struck out nine and walked two.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny was impressed with Wacha's late-inning poise.
``For a kid to do that against a lineup like that, at this point in the season, it's hard to get your head around it,' Matheny said.
Trevor Rosenthal got Jayson Werth to ground out for his second save, both in the last two nights. The game took 2 hours, 10 minutes.
With anticipation building and fans on their feet in the ninth inning, Wacha retired pinch-hitter Steve Lombardozzi on a grounder to Kozma before throwing a called third strike past Denard Span.
But on the next pitch, Zimmerman spoiled it.
``I guess it just wasn't to be,' Wacha said. ``But it was still a pretty special night.'
Texas' Yu Darvish lost a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning against Houston on April 2 and San Francisco's Yusmeiro Petit had his try at perfection end one out shy against Arizona on Sept 6.
Cincinnati's Homer Bailey and the Giants' Tim Lincecum threw no-hitters in July.
It has been 30 years since there was a no-hitter in St. Louis. Bob Forsch finished off his second for the Cardinals on Sept. 26, 1983, against Montreal.
Drafted 19th overall out of Texas A&M last year, Wacha has been up and down from the minors a couple of times this season. But he came up big for the Cardinals in the final week as they try to nail down their first division title since 2009.
St. Louis, which already clinched a playoff berth, maintained its two-game lead over Pittsburgh, which beat the Chicago Cubs 8-2. Cincinnati lost to the New York Mets 4-2, falling three games back with four to play.
Wacha retired his first 14 batters before Adam LaRoche reached on an error by second baseman Matt Carpenter.
Span tried to break up the no-hitter with a two-out bunt in the sixth. The ball rolled just foul near third base, and the crowd booed lustily.
Left fielder Shane Robinson made a running catch of a tailing liner off the bat of Anthony Rendon to end the eighth.
Robinson drove in Carpenter with a two-out single off Gio Gonzalez (11-8) in the third. Carpenter began the rally with his major league-leading 55th double.
Molina pushed the lead to 2-0 with a run-scoring double in the fourth.
Gonzalez allowed two runs and six hits over seven innings. He struck out six.
NOTES: Nationals RHP Jordan Zimmermann (19-7, 3.18 ERA) gets his last scheduled shot at 20 wins on Wednesday when he faces RHP Shelby Miller (14-9, 3.12) in the finale of the three-game series. ... The Cardinals are 14-2 against NL East opponents at home.
The Associated Press News Service
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