Sometimes in sports, Hollywood can’t script anything better than the story that actually unfurls before the eyes of those watching, waiting for something special to happen.
Who would score the first run in the World Series for the Nationals? Who would drive in the first run? Who would hit the first World Series home run for the team?
Ryan Zimmerman, the first draft pick by the Nationals way back in 2005, answered all of them.
The Nationals were in an early 2-0 hole after the first inning in Game 1, facing the daunting task of trying to score runs against arguably the best pitcher in baseball in Gerrit Cole.
With two quick outs for Cole in the second inning, Zimmerman stepped into the box in the Fall Classic for the first time in his career. The right-hander delivered a 97mph fastball middle-middle basically asking to be hit out and the Nats’ stalwart happily obliged.
Not only was the home run hugely significant in franchise history, it was pretty significant in the game itself, helping the Nationals break the seal and build some confidence.
Two innings later, it was potentially the new face of the franchise, Juan Soto, who went deep, tying the contest and completely flipping the mood in the Nats’ dugout as they hauled their way back into the game.
“Everything changed,” Soto explained. “After they got two runs and then we come back and get another one and they can’t get the shutout inning, everybody feels happy again.
“Everybody was a little bit down. But...after we hit the homer against a guy like that, everybody thought we’ve got a chance now. He’s been doing really well but he made a mistake, so he’s going to make it again and we’ll get it.”
As Soto said, scoring runs off of a pitcher like Cole was huge in the context of the game.
“To be able to get some runs off a guy like Gerrit,” Zimmerman said, “that guy has been the best pitcher in baseball for the last, whatever, four months. He’s a special pitcher and we had a good plan tonight, we executed, and luckily for us he made some mistakes.
“I have a feeling we’re going to see him again. We respect the heck out of them and we know we’ve got a long way to go.”
But reflecting back on the home run, it’s impossible not to put it into the larger context.
In a way, it brought everything full circle with this franchise. The man who has been through so much with this franchise, both in the good and bad times, put his name in the franchise history books again. Just the way it should be.
It was hard not to be delighted and emotional at the same when the ball cleared the fence.
“They got excited,” Martinez said after the game. “I’ll be honest with you, my eyes got a little watery for him. He waited a long time to be in this position and for him to hit that first home run and put us on the board was awesome.”
The Nationals went on to win Game 1 by a score of 5-4, even if it was at the cost of several fingernails for everyone watching, giving the franchise its first World Series win.
The win is a long way from the nondescript first few seasons for the team in the nation’s capital and it’s practically a chasm away from the back-to-back 100 loss seasons in ‘09 and ‘10.
“It’s been a long ride,” Zimmerman described. “And this year has been, especially the year to start the way we did and the way we’ve been playing the last couple of months. First at-bat to hit a home run and run around the bases, you’re kind of almost floating around the bases.
“In order to be able to do that is obviously what you work for. It’s what not only you sacrifice for but what your family sacrifices for. That’s why you play the game, to play on the biggest stage.”
As the first draft pick in team history, every single Nationals fan has watched Zimmerman grow with the team and become the unquestioned face of the franchise for the last 14 years.
“It’s been fun to grow with the fans, with the community, with the city, to watch them become baseball fans, to watch the neighborhood around the ballpark grow up,” Zimmerman said of the fans back in DC.
“I’m sure they’re as excited, probably more excited than we are about the kind of ride we’ve been on.
“But it’s a special thing to be a part of and we appreciate it and hopefully we can keep it going for them.”
There’s little doubt those same fans are delighted that it was Zimmerman who got this whole World Series experience started for the team given all he’s poured into the city.
Once again, Zimmerman’s name is going to be attached to a significant moment in Nationals history. It had to be Zimmerman to hit that home run. It simply had to be.