Ryan Zimmerman has seen it all. Drafted in June of 2005, and called up that September, there isn’t much Washington Nationals’ history that Zimmerman wasn’t a part over his 15 seasons in the nation’s capital.
“Me, the fans, the community, we’ve kind of grown up together,” the now-35-year-old first baseman told reporters after the Nationals clinched the NL Pennant and a spot in the 2019 World Series on Tuesday night. “I was 20 years old when I got here. We were not very good. And the fans -- you know, I still talk to season ticket holders now that have been here since RFK. We went through those things together.”
In his eighth season in D.C., things started to turn around for the franchise.
“Right around 2012, when we made that first push, things started to change a little bit, and the expectations were raised. We’ve had some chances and couldn’t come through, and I think a lot of those failures kind of taught us and pushed us to get to where we are now.
#NLCS MVP on the #Nationals taking the “1-0 every day” thing seriously: pic.twitter.com/fM570ippzG— federalbaseball (@federalbaseball) October 16, 2019
“I feel like me, the fans, the community are kind of one, and they deserve this just as much as we do.”
It wasn’t easy. Especially this season. It started with the Nats 19-31 in the first 50 games, before a 74-38 run earned them a spot in the NL Wild Card Game.
A win over Milwaukee in the Wild Card, and a dramatic NLDS Game 5 win over the 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers got them to the NLCS, where they swept the St. Louis Cardinals with Tuesday’s 7-4 victory.
The Nationals made it to the postseason four times in seven seasons between 2012-18, but lost in the NLDS each time, before they finally advanced this season.
“You’ve got to earn it, man,” Howie Kendrick told reporters, after being named the NLCS MVP. Kendrick, 36, will be playing the World Series for the first time in his 14-year career.
“I feel like being around this long, I wouldn’t change anything about the past because this is just -- I mean, it’s unbelievable.”
Kendrick, who returned from an Achilles tear to put up what is arguably the best season of his career, struggled at times early this month, but kept his head up and came up big with his grand slam in the 10th inning of Game 5 of the NLDS one of the biggest hits in franchise history.
“He’s been -- you know, I’ve got a picture on my phone that I took after the L.A. series when he -- I hate to call them errors, but he made an error,” Davey Martinez told reporters in D.C. after Game 4 of the NLCS.
“Everybody knows that. They showed him in the dugout, and his face just said it all. He’s like -- he felt like he let the team down. And for him to come back and do what he’s done in this series and there and hit that grand slam in L.A., that only tells you what kind of person, what kind of player he is.
“I mean, he’s been the quiet leader all year. You could talk about Zim. Zim is the captain, but Howie, when Howie speaks, everybody listens. I mean, truly.
“For me, he’s definitely the Comeback Player of the Year and then some.”
“I knew I was ready coming into spring because of the work I did put in to get back. It was a long road,” Kendrick said.
“I think, right after having surgery on my Achilles, I had to stay here for about six weeks, and it was killing me not to be able to play. But I think being around with the guys, and having a good attitude and just focusing on trying to get healthy -- that’s why I went home because I knew I had to go home to get healthy, and that was my best shot.
“I told them before I left, I said, I’ll be ready for Spring Training. Some people were like, yeah, yeah, we’ll see. I wasn’t joking when I said that. To be able to be back with these guys, guys like Zim, [Anthony] Rendon, [Juan] Soto, Trea Turner -- it means a lot to be around those guys. I learn so much from them, and I love these guys just as much as they love me, and I know that 100 percent. I think that’s the big reason why we have success because we truly care about the next guy.”
Whatever it was, whether it was the team chemistry, hard work, or luck, it worked out for the Nationals this time around.
“I think there’s a misconception,” Zimmerman said.
“People think it’s easy to win in the playoffs. First of all, it’s really hard to get to the playoffs, and second of all, you’re playing against the elite teams of the elite league. You’ve got to catch some breaks. I think in the years past, maybe we didn’t catch those breaks. I think we caught some breaks this year, but I think more importantly, we took advantage of those breaks. So kind of made our own luck, I guess, if that’s how you want to put it.”
“We couldn’t predict this,” Kendrick said. “But we want to win, and I think at the end of the day, when you put everything out there on the field, and you’re not worried about your stats or you’re not worried about this or that or other teams, we worry about what we’re doing, that’s when success happens. I feel like our team is full of guys that really go out and they work hard. Whether it’s before the game, whether it’s in practice -- they get prepared to play every day, and that’s where you see the results is out on the field.
“When we get out on the field, we already did all the hard work, and then it’s just about having fun and we’ve got a lot of guys that like to have fun, too.”
“I think you get to this point in the season, I hope every team is having fun,” Zimmerman said. “We just kind of had to start doing it a lot earlier. We were forced into it. Yeah, obviously, this is huge for us and for the city and the community. But we’re going to enjoy this a lot tonight, probably tomorrow, as well, and then we’re kind of on to the next.
“But this is a huge accomplishment for everyone that’s involved in this organization.”