Ryan Zimmerman reflects on journey from UVA to World Series

Ryan ZimmermanRyan Zimmerman isn’t actually the Original National – he was still at UVA when the Nats opened their first season, in 2005, in Washington.

But Zim was the first draft pick, going fourth in the first round that June, and he was a September call-up who ended up hitting .397 that season, taking the third-base job from Vinny Castilla.

He’s been through thick – four NL East titles – and a lot of thin, the NLDS failures, the back-to-back 100-loss seasons in 2008 and 2009, in the midst of a stretch of five last-place NL East finishes in six years.

Zimmerman put up consistent good numbers – seven seasons with 20+ homers, three seasons with 100+ RBIs, two .300 seasons, two Silver Sluggers, two All-Star Games, one Gold Glove.

Injuries have been an issue: Zim has played 100+ games just twice (2016 and 2017) in the last six seasons, and just 52 games this season, leading to speculation that this season could be his last, given that the Nats hold a team option on the final year of his current contract, which would pay him $18 million, with a $2 million buyout.

He returned from his second lengthy stint on the IL on Sept. 1, greeted in part by a post on social media from his wife, Heather, celebrating the September call-up, a nice touch, homering in a 9-3 win over Miami, launching a final-month mini-tear that saw him slash .285/.345/.472 with three homers and 12 RBI in 53 at bats.

Still, he went into the postseason uncertain of how he would be used by manager Davey Martinez, with Howie Kendrick (.344/.395/.572, 17 HR, 64 RBI in 121 games) and Asdrubal Cabrera (.323/.404/.565, 6 HR, 40 RBI in 38 games in DC in 2019) both hitting the cover off the ball.

“With the injuries I had this year and with missing, obviously, a huge chunk of the season, you know, coming back, talking with Davey, it was just basically, I’m here to help, however you want me to do it,” Zimmerman said. “This team was playing unbelievable. Basically, I was just happy to be healthy and come back. However they wanted to use me, I was up for it. With the way that those guys were playing, I was going to have to play my way back in. You got to earn stuff at this level. Nothing’s given to you.”

Kendrick and Cabrera started the wild-card game win over Milwaukee, but Zimmerman got maybe the biggest hit of his career in the eighth inning, a pinch-hit, two-out, broken-bat single that moved Trea Turner to third, ahead of a walk to Anthony Rendon and the eventual game-winning single by Juan Soto that sent Washington to the NLDS.

Zim didn’t get off the bench in Game 1, went 1-for-4 with a double and a run scored in Game 2, then was relegated to the bench again in Game 3.

He’s been a fixture in the starting lineup since his Game 4 NLDS homer that helped the Nats to a 6-1 win in that elimination game.

Zimmerman is slashing .290/.313/.484 in 31 postseason at bats, with three doubles, a homer and five RBIs, and nice work in the field, including a highlight-reel stab of a liner in the eighth inning of the 2-0 Game 1 win that kept, for the moment, the Anibal Sanchez no-no alive, and an important running catch of a Yadier Molina foul pop leading off the sixth, helping reliever Tanner Rainey settle in at a key moment.

And so it was that Zim was standing at first base with two outs in the ninth, 14 autumns after his first September call-up, those last-place finishes, NLDS flameouts, the injuries and rehab assignments, all in the rear view.

What was he thinking, you want to know, as he watched the fly ball off the bat of St. Louis third baseman Tommy Edman bound out toward center, Victor Robles camping under it, the World Series on the other side?

“People asked me what I did, and I don’t even know what I did. I’m going to have to go back and look,” Zimmerman said, before recapping the game – how the Cardinals didn’t give in after falling behind early, how Patrick Corbin battled, how the bullpen gutted one out.

“Yeah, just relief, I guess, might be the best word,” Zimmerman said.

As he talked to reporters postgame, what was happening, and about to happen, that the Original National would finally be playing in a World Series, was still hard to put into any kind of context.

“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” Zimmerman said. “Me, the fans, the community, we’ve kind of grown up together. 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.

“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.

“I feel like me, the fans, the community are kind of one, and they deserve this just as much as we do.”

Story by Chris Graham



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