Celebrating Ryan Zimmerman: 11 great moments with No. 11

The Washington Nationals celebrate the career of the former face of the franchise Ryan Zimmerman Saturday by retiring his No. 11.

The Virginia Beach native and University of Virginia product was the team’s initial first round draft pick in 2005 after the official move to D.C., and was quite a bit more productive than their 2004 first-rounder (William & Mary pitcher Bill Bray pitched just 19 games with the Nationals) or 2006 selection (high school outfielder Chris Marrero played only 39 games with the Nats).

Zim finished the franchise’s (and that’s accounting for the Montreal Expos from 1969-2004) all-time leader in games played, at-bats and plate appearances, hits and runs scored, doubles, home runs and RBI.

He was the best player on teams that were somewhat difficult to watch (the Nationals didn’t finish over .500 until his 2012) and was a key cog in the run of five playoff appearances over eight seasons from 2012-19 that ended with a World Series championship.

Ryan Zimmerman’s No. 11 will not be worn by anyone else, so it’s only fitting we check out 11 special moments in Zim’s career:

1. Auspicious debut

Rookie Ryan Zimmerman made his Major League debut on Sept. 1, 2005, by pinch-hitting in an 8-7 loss to Atlanta. He wore No. 25 as Junior Spivey was still with the club.

Jeffrey Hammonds also wore No. 11 that year for the Nats, and neither man played another day in the big leagues after that season. Zim struck out in his lone at-bat that day.

He’d get better …

2. Opening the new home in style

The Nationals played the 2005-07 seasons at RFK Stadium before moving into their current home on South Capitol Street in 2008. And even though he had a bit of a reputation as “Mr. Walk-Off” (more on that in a moment), it was on March 30, 2008, that Zim’s late-inning prowess was more than an isolated incident here or there.

That night on ESPN — in the first game ever at Nationals Park — Zimmerman’s ninth-inning homer off of Peter Moylan delivered a 3-2 victory for the home team.

3. About those walk-offs

Zimmerman began his run as “Mr. Walk-Off” a few years earlier by performing a holiday trifecta: his first game-ending homer came on June 18, 2006, (Father’s Day) and he’d go yard to win another game in the ninth on July Fourth (no other fireworks necessary) before belting a walk-off homer May 12, 2007 (Mother’s Day).

I mean, it’s really not fair to homer on one parent’s holiday and not the other …

4. Mister Clutch

All told, Zimmerman hit 11 walk-off home runs in his career, two behind the MLB record of 13 set by Jim Thome (13) and one behind a group that includes Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle.

His 11 walk-offs tie him with Hall of Famers Tony Perez (another guy who moved from third to first midway through his career) and David Ortiz.

Zim would belt two in a month (July 6 & 31 of 2010) and hit his final walk-off blast on Aug. 22, 2018. He’d also end games with four walk-off singles in his career, a walk-off sac-fly, and a walk-off walk.

5. Going Deep

Zim’s 284 home runs is a franchise record. His lone three-homer game came on May 29, 2013 at Baltimore as he went 3 for 4 with four RBI against the Orioles in a 9-6 loss (Jordan Zimmerman allowing seven runs over six innings to take the L).

His best season? In 2017, when after being limited to 156 games the previous two years due to injuries, the 32-year old belted 36 round-trippers for the NL East champs.

6. Hot hitting

He also retires as the team’s all-time leader in hits (1,846) and RBI (1,061). Zim posted 13 four-hit games throughout his career while notching a pair of six-RBI games.

And for more than a decade, he was in the meat of the order: 912 games played batting third, 345 in the cleanup spot, and 243 hitting fifth (that comes to 83% of his games played in the 3-4-5 spots of the lineup).

7. More than just a pretty bat

Zimmerman played 1,133 games at third base before moving to first (where he logged 526 games) midway through his career. And in the hot corner before injuries mandated the move, he was something special, winning the 2009 Gold Glove.

Even late in his career after the move to first, Zim still made his mark in the field: his eighth inning stab of a line drive in Game One of the NLCS against St. Louis in a 2-0 game with Anibal Sanchez staggering kept the shutout in play and helped set the sweep in motion.

8. At home on the ice as well

More than just a player who spent his career here, Ryan and his family became a part of the community.

And when the Washington Capitals advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2018, who was there to cheer them on for the pregame “Let Go Caps!” than Zim and Max Scherzer.

Rock the Red, indeed …

9. One wild season-saving slap.

Zimmerman played a career-low (not counting his September call-up in 2005) 52 games in 2019 due to a foot injury.

He was mostly absent for the team’s rally from 19-31 to 93-69 and the playoffs, but made his presence felt in the Wildcard Game October 1.

With two outs in the eighth inning and Michael A. Taylor on first base, Zim pinch-hit for Adam Eaton. His broken-bat single came out of central casting and dribbled through for a hit as Taylor went to third and the rally stayed alive. Andrew Stevenson would pinch-hit and score the game-tying run on Juan Soto’s bases-clearing single two hitters later.

Instead of another empty October, the Nats advanced in the playoffs for the first time ever. They’d make more noise that month.

10. Hello Houston!

The Nationals reached their first-ever World Series thanks to a five-game NLDS triumph over the Los Angeles Dodgers and a sweep of St. Louis in the NLCS. And with American League rules in place for Game One in Houston, Zimmerman was slated to bat seventh and play first base.

Trailing 2-0 in the second inning, Zimmerman delivered the first Nationals World Series home run to help jumpstart a comeback that ended in a 5-4 victory. He would be on the field for the final out a week later in Game Seven as the Nats completed a rally from being down three games to two in the Fall Classic.

11. Goodbye?

Oct. 3, 2021 wrapped up the longest season of recent memory as the Nationals finished 65-97 after free-falling from 40-38 entering July.

On the final day of the season the team that was so used to playing for something in October was facing a Boston team that needed a victory to make the playoffs. Zimmerman went 0-3 with a bases-loaded walk for the final RBI of his career (1,061) and after the game took a curtain call to those of the 33,986 still on hand at Nats Park.

We didn’t know for certain if that would be the last game he’d play.

And so this week instead of being sad that the best career in Washington baseball history since Walter Johnson is over, we’re going to be happy that it happened.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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