Ryan Zimmerman made his one hit in four at bats last night count. The Washington Nationals' third baseman and three-hole hitter doubled in a run in the third, took third on a groundout and scored on a wild pitch, driving in one and then scoring what would eventually end up the being the winning run one out later. The double was the 27-year-old '05 1st Round pick's 33rd two-base hit this season to go along with 22 HRs and a .284/.349/.475 line in 133 games and 590 PAs. The Nats' first 1st Round pick has played through shoulder issues, received cortisone shots so he could keep going and produced at the plate at a rate fans in the nation's capital have come to expect from the eight-year veteran with the career .288/.354/.479 line and a 162-game average of 41 doubles and 25 HRs thus far in his career.
Zimmerman has also been a quiet, seemingly reluctant leader on a team that's built slowly towards the success they're experiencing this season, and he's endured all of the suffering that fans following the franchise have on a series of teams that more often than not have been eliminated from contention long before the end of the season in the past. What he adds to the roster and the clubhouse does not go unnoticed by his manager, however.
In the post game press conference last night following the Nats' 91st win of the season, which clinched at least a Wild Card berth for the the team currently leading the NL East, Davey Johnson talked about his third baseman and called him the best player on a talented team. "He's been outstanding," Johnson said, "He leads by example. He's quiet. I enjoy his leadership and he has a big effect on the whole ballclub. He's our best player and he's ready to play every day."
"I mean, when he scored on that wild pitch," Johnson said, in a slightly mocking but humorous tone, "I didn't think anybody humanly possible [could do that], because it hit the wall and came right back. And [I said], 'Ryan? You did that?' And he was clearly safe. It was great instincts on his part to beat that rebound." Zimmerman's had quite a career so far, with his instincts, reflexes (especially with the glove) and the bat all part of his well-rounded game. [We'll just save talk of his occasionally erratic overhand throws and lack of stolen bases for a pretty quick player for another day.]
Asked about his manager's comments in an interview on ESPN 980's the Sports Fix with Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro this afternoon, Zimmerman didn't shy away from being called a leader though he did explain that he thinks the great ones don't usually think of themselves like that. "People who are great leaders don't really think of themselves as leaders," Zimmerman said, "I think it just happens. I've been fortunate enough to work out with Derek Jeter the past few years down in Tampa and kind of pick his brain a little bit and talk to him a little bit about, obviously, his career and I think we can all agree that he might be one of the best leaders of all-time in baseball and the biggest thing he told me was, 'You're no different from anyone else,' whether how much pressure is put on you to be the guy or whatever."
"Leaders are people who go out and play the game the right way every day," Zimmerman continued, "and [don't] necessarily go up and yell at people. They lead by example. And people want you to be a leader or say you're a leader because they respect you for A) the player you are; and B) the person you are. So, I think people who get caught up in that, 'I'm a leader,' stuff try and do things for the wrong reasons and the leader and that title just kind of falls on people that over time you get respect and over time your teammates learn that you do things the right way."
"The leader stuff," Zimmerman concluded, "It is what it is. Just the same as the 'Face of the Franchise' stuff. I tell people I was the first draft pick and grew up close to here so I was kind of the Face of the Franchise by default and then everyone kind of ran with it. I enjoy it and it's fun and it's great for the city and the organization, but there [are] a lot of leaders on this team and there [are] some really, really good players on this team."
Another humble leader in a line of them in Washington like the Big Train Walter Johnson and the Gentle Giant Frank Howard before him. Ryan Zimmerman quietly leads by example. It's kind of a D.C. baseball tradition.