WASHINGTON, D.C.: Ryan Zimmerman stood on second base, waiting patiently while the umpires reviewed what would eventually be ruled his 11th career walk-off home run. He’d launched a 96 mph 2-1 fastball from Philadelphia Phillies’ closer Seranthony Dominguez to right field in Nationals Park, but it bounced off the silver fence at the top of the wall, in the middle of what Zimmerman called “that terrible little triangle” where the bullpen ends and the end of out-of-town scoreboard/right-center wall meets the stands.
“I knew it didn’t hit the wall,” Zimmerman said. “So there’s a space behind that wall. I’ve hit a lot of balls to that terrible triangle out there, so once I saw it I thought it was gone and [saw] the replay, I was pretty sure they were going to overturn it.”
They did. Zimmerman’s 12th home run of the season lifted the Washington Nationals to an 8-7 win over the NL East’s second-place Phillies.
Zimmerman only had an opportunity to win it because Juan Soto kept the ninth inning alive with a two-out, two-strike double to right on a 96 mph 2-2 fastball from Dominguez, who’d retired the first two batters he faced. Soto took a 98 mph 1-2 fastball outside that was close, and fouled off another 98 mph heater, then lined the sixth straight 98-99 mph heater he saw to right field.
*pretends to be shocked that Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk-off HR* pic.twitter.com/RukBxKMRiN— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) August 23, 2018
Soto was 1 for 4 with three strikeouts before his ninth inning at bat, but he put together yet another impressive plate appearance and impressed everyone involved with his approach.
“I think that shows you what kind of person and player he is to be able to do that, put those at bats behind him and grind out an at bat like that in a huge situation to give us a chance,” Zimmerman said.
“He’s done that since he came up here, and if he doesn’t have that at bat, there’s no chance for me or anyone else behind me to do anything, so huge at bat for him.”
“Every day he shows me something [with] what he does,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez told reporters when asked about Soto’s at bat. “He’s just smart young player. Even the bunts, running the bases, he pays attention, when he can steal, when he can’t. Just all the little things. He’s real smart. He pays attention to the game and he loves to play.”
Soto’s approach in that matchup?
“It’s the same,” Soto said. “Look for the fastball and try to hit it with the barrel. I know the ball is going to jump because I hit the barrel.”
Soto almost had a slight lapse in the attention to detail that Martinez praised, however, and it could have been costly.
He scored on Zimmerman’s hit, then waited with his teammates near the first base dugout as the home run was reviewed.
As soon as it was ruled that it went out, Zimmerman started from second and headed to third on the way towards home.
Soto ran out to celebrate and he approached Zimmerman as Zim rounded third base, only to get shooed away by the 33-year-old veteran, who was pretty sure even after the replay, that if the 19-year-old touched him at all before he reached home he would be out.
Martinez saw it happening.
“Yeah, I did. You know if he touches him, he’s out. So, I was screaming bloody murder. Luckily [Soto] didn’t touch him. Zim said he started screaming at him too.”
What was Zimmerman screaming?
“Get away! Get away! I don’t even know the rules, but, “Get away!’” Zimmerman said.
“I was like five feet close, and he was like, ‘Get away!’” Soto said with a laugh.
Soto said he was so excited the rules didn’t occur to him.
“It’s too much,” he said of Zimmerman’s game-winning home run. “Too much. I just ran around and he was like, ‘Get away!’ And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ Then I turned around and saw everybody at home plate and said, ‘I have to be there.’”
Soto backed away. Zimmerman touched home plate. And the Nationals beat the Phillies for a second straight game.
“He’s impressive,” Soto said when asked about watching Zimmerman win it with his blast.
“He’s a really good guy. He always competes and never gives up. That’s one of the parts I love of him. And I’m here with him. If he never gives up, I don’t.”
Zimmerman talked about his approach in that final at bat, and what he was thinking as he stepped in to face Dominguez.
“[Matt Wieters] has been swinging the bat really well too, behind me,” Zimmerman said. “We have both been swinging the bat really well, so you don’t think they’re going to pitch around you, you have to be ready to hit, but he threw me [three] sliders, so I don’t know if they were trying to see if I would maybe fish for something and he caught too much of the plate, but honestly I was just looking for kind of a fastball middle-away to get Juan in, I wasn’t trying to do too much and just put a good swing on it.”
But seriously, 11 career walk-off homers? How does Zimmerman do it?
“Like I was just saying, you can’t try to do too much, I think the second you try to do stuff like that it doesn’t happen. Those guys are supposed to get you out. That guy is nasty, that guys has been really good for facing a guy in the ninth inning and a close game and the other team has the lead those guys are usually pretty good, so I kind of put the pressure all on them, they’re supposed to get me out.”
Sometimes they do. Sometimes Zimmerman walks off on them.