When the 2019 playoffs began, Ryan Zimmerman didn’t have an everyday spot in the lineup.
The Nationals’ first baseman spent two significant chunks of the season on the injured list dealing with plantar fasciitis. Even after he returned to the field for good Sept. 1, Zimmerman shared first base duties with Howie Kendrick and Matt Adams. He hit well down the stretch (.817 OPS with three home runs in September) but couldn’t crack the team’s starting lineup for the NL Wild Card Game.
However, manager Davey Martinez hadn’t lost faith in the 35-year-old. After the team fell behind 2-1 to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, Martinez penciled in Zimmerman at first base batting sixth with Washington’s season on the line. One year after the Nationals won that game to set up a pivotal Game 5, it’s worth revisiting how Zimmerman helped keep Washington in the fight another day.
Los Angeles exploded for 10 runs off the Nationals in Game 3, doing most of their damage in a seven-run sixth inning with Patrick Corbin on the mound pitching in relief. The Dodgers certainly had momentum going into Game 4, but the Nationals had to feel good about their chances playing at home with Max Scherzer on the mound against Rich Hill.
Justin Turner put the Dodgers on the board with a solo home run off Scherzer in the top of the first. That would be all they’d muster against Scherzer, who settled in to put together seven innings of one-run baseball with four hits, three walks and seven strikeouts. The gem from Scherzer was a welcomed sight for the Nationals after he was rather pedestrian following his return from an IL stint.
That put the onus on the offense to come through for Washington. Anthony Rendon tied the game on a sacrifice fly in the third, knocking Hill from the game as he had just returned from his own extended stay on the IL and couldn’t go too deep into the game. The Nationals’ bats didn’t do much else, however, until the fifth inning.
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With Julio Urias on the mound for Los Angeles, Trea Turner singled to lead off the bottom of the fifth. He moved to second on a bunt by Adam Eaton before Rendon got his hands around an inside fastball and drove in his second run of the game with a single to left field. The Nationals had the lead, but a one-run advantage was hardly safe with the bullpen Washington had dealt with all year.
After Juan Soto popped out and Kendrick singled, Zimmerman came to the plate with runners on the corners and two outs. It wasn’t a do-or-die moment — the game still had four innings to go — but the Nationals’ offense had looked a bit sluggish so far in the postseason, scoring no more than four runs in each of their four previous games.
Zimmerman delivered, taking a high fastball from Urias and sending it out to straightaway center field out of the reach of the leaping Cody Bellinger to give Washington a 5-1 lead in front of a roaring Nationals Park crowd.
That Game 4 could’ve been Zimmerman’s last as a National. His future, both with the team and as a professional player in general, was still up in the air. But his home run gave the Nationals a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson combined for the final six outs to help Washington force Game 5 — an all-too-familiar occurrence that this time had a different result.
Zimmerman’s performance cemented his spot in the Nationals’ lineup. After he started just one of their first four playoff games, Martinez played Zimmerman every game the rest of the way. He made an impact in the NLCS with a pair of multi-hit games and went down as the first player in Nationals franchise history to homer in the World Series, but it was Game 4 of the NLDS that saw Zimmerman deliver in a big moment just like he had for them so many times before.