Ryan Zimmerman is not a guy who pimps his home runs.
So when the veteran first baseman paused momentarily to admire his 273rd career homer, a three-run shot that helped the Washington Nationals beat Baltimore 12-9, it wasn’t so much bravado as a moment to appreciate the fun he’s having in his 16th major league season.
“That’s why we call him ‘the Captain,’” said manager Davey Martinez after the game. “I put him out there. He gets a chance to play. He gets the job done, and he’s having a lot of fun. He really is. He’s enjoying what he’s doing.”
Zimmerman’s career has grown and matured with the franchise that made him its first draft choice after moving from Montreal, and he’s now having a second “Ryanaissance,” four years after his most recent big season in the major leagues.
After notably taking the 2020 season off to protect his family from COVID, “The Face of the Franchise” is back with the Nationals in what he and the team consider a limited capacity.
However, his 27th appearance in 42 games this season was one where even his 3-for-5, three-run, three-RBI line in the box score didn’t tell the whole story.
That unfolded when the city and franchise’s career home run leader added to his total with yet another go-ahead shot.
He later took a curtain call as the team’s team’s career runs leader, passing a Hall of Famer on a sprint home from second base
“Just another day at the office for employee No. 11,” he deadpanned after the game on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.
The Nationals needed all of Zimmerman’s hitting and baserunning to overcome an early 5-0 Baltimore lead.
Zimmerman singled and scored his first run of the game on Josh Harrison’s third-inning grand slam that pulled the Nationals within 6-5.
When Zimmerman stepped to the plate in the fourth inning with nobody out, Andrew Stevenson had already tied the game on Trea Turner’s single, and righty Adam Plutko had replaced starting left-hander Bruce Zimmermann. Turner was on third, having advanced on a single by Juan Soto.
“Heater to start, good slider that I almost swung at and did a good job of laying off of, so I kind of got to see both pitches,” said Zimmerman, breaking down the at-bat.
“Next pitch was just a hanging slider that he left over the middle, and honestly I just didn’t try to do too much with it.”
All he did was barrel a high, towering, no-doubt-about-it shot into the visitors’ bullpen in left field.
“Just good swing and felt great off that bat,” he concluded.
Zimmerman followed through his swing and his first couple steps out of the right-hand batter’s box seemed like he was in slow motion as he admired the blast, then settled into his usual, business-like trot around the bases. His fifth home run of the season did what so many others in his career had done, given the Nats a lead they would never relinquish, 9-6.
Zimmerman’s next trip around the bases would not be quite so leisurely, but no less tense and no less momentous.
In the sixth, Zimmerman faced another left-hander, Tanner Scott, following Soto’s leadoff double.
Zimmerman worked the count full before getting a piece of a low slider. The ball dribbled up the third base line, as Maikel Franco gave it a chance to bounce foul, but it stayed fair, and Zimmerman motored down the first-base line ahead of the high throw.
The next batter, Starlin Castro, swung at the first pitch, as he often does, and launched a high fly ball to the right field warning track. The fly ball easily scored Soto, who had stayed at third on the infield hit.
But Zimmerman instantly recognized how hard Castro hit the ball, tagged-up at first and took off for second, beating Anthony Santander’s throw to Freddy Galvis.
Now with one out and a 10-7 Nats’ lead, Kyle Schwarber pulled a grounder through the shift into right field, where Santander was playing deep. Zimmerman was off instantly this time and was rounding third by the time Santander had charged the rolling ball. Zimmerman scored without a throw.
For the moment, it was just Washington’s 11th run of the ballgame, but when Zimmerman got back to the dugout, after the usual congratulatory handshakes, he learned that he’d set yet another franchise record.
The run was the 948th of Zimmerman’s career, moving him into the Washington/Montreal franchise lead past Hall of Famer Tim Raines, who had scored 947 times in 13 seasons with Montreal.
After news of the record flashed on the center-field video board, announcing it to the crowd of 15,440, Nationals Park broke into a standing ovation.
Zimmerman emerged from the dugout, doffed his cap, saluted and waved to recognize the adulation.
He returned the fans’ gratitude afterward.
Ryan Zimmerman was the 1st @MLB Draft pick in #Nats history.— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) May 23, 2021
It's 16th big league season. He's taken his fair share of curtain calls at Nationals Park.
Tonight's hit different.
To the 15,440 fans who came out to watch baseball on a beautiful Saturday afternoon...
Thank you. pic.twitter.com/L7BTIu0uJu
“I was not aware, but any time something like that happens — and obviously it’s special for anyone — but for me being here so long and going through so much, any time I get to share something with the fans, it’s special,” said Zimmerman.
“You get those moments because you’re old like me. You got to play for a long time. I’m just lucky to enough to be able to do it in one place.
“I think everyone knows how I feel about this D.C. area, and the fan base, and how special it is to me, so to be able to do things like and share it with the fanbase is always great.”
It was just the latest of several quick dashes around the bases this season for Zimmerman, who acknowledges a certain spring in his step with way his playing time is being managed this season.
“It helps not having to play every day, to be honest with you,” said Zimmerman. “It’s been nice to start a couple times a week and pinch hit, really be able to kind of take care of my body, and do the most that I can to stay healthy, so when it is my chance to play I can produce.”
But after 15 years in the big leagues, Zimmerman said it was no big deal to set the record by scoring from second base on a single.
“It doesn’t really stand out to me,” he said. “That’s just what I’ve been taught to do my entire career, and that’s how you play the game, and it’s kind of ironic that the run that I scored was basically produced that way. But yeah, that’s the way I’ve always been taught to play the game.
“That’s the point of the game is to score runs, so getting to second base and doing whatever I can to give the next guy a better chance to drive me in is what you’re supposed to do.”
36 years old...— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) May 22, 2021
Beat out an INF 1B...
Tagged up to 2nd on a fly ball to RF...
Scored from 2nd on a 1B...
Set a franchise record.
Ryan Zimmerman is a Nationals legend.@BudSelect // #NATITUDE pic.twitter.com/ze4p3ZykbF
Zimmerman’s reputation as a good baserunner is well known and nothing new to his manager.
“We talked about that, when we were coming in to face the Nationals when I was on another team,” said Martinez. “We talked about how he’s a very good baserunner going first to third. He understands the game. He gets good secondary leads to score.
“The fact that he saw the guy drifting back and got back to first base and tagged up, that was awesome.”
Zimmerman credits habits that have become second nature to a veteran ballplayer.
“Just being able to run the bases, and I think baseball IQ, and knowing when to tag up, and knowing when to do things,” Zimmerman said.
“I don’t want to say it’s a lost art — there’s plenty of guys who still do it — but it’s not thought of as much or practiced as much.”
In fact, Zimmerman and his fellow bench jockeys have embraced their part-time, clutch duties and celebrate them by wearing T-shirts printed with the letters S-O-B.
“It stands for, ‘Studs off the Bench,’” said Zimmerman.
“It’s hard to come off the bench in the big leagues. And it’s hard to pinch hit, and it’s hard to be productive, and we’ve kind of taken it as a challenge, and we’re going to go at it together as a group.
“We’re 2-0 since we got the shirts, so I’m sure it’s all the shirt’s fault.”
Martinez says it’s Zimmerman’s leadership.
“He speaks when he needs to and he carries this team, so kudos to him,” said the manager.