The Washington Times - May 30, 2013, 09:53AM

BALTIMORE — The Nationals could not celebrate on Wednesday night. They were left to unpack a 9-6 loss in a game they’d led 6-2 at one point. And as the quiet settled over Camden Yards the same way the sticky, humid air had earlier in the day, it was tough not to think what a shame that lack of celebration was for third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

Zimmerman became the fourth player this season to hit three home runs in a game and, according to ESPN’s hittracker, his homers traveled a total of 1,244 — almost a quarter mile. 

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And while his offensive feats were the ones that made eyes go wide, brought his teammates to the dugout’s top step and even got Nationals managing principal owner Ted Lerner up out of his seat behind the team’s dugout to give his third baseman a standing ovation, he had a tremendous night defensively as well.

“It’s tough to have a night like that and not be able to celebrate it and have fun because we lost,” Zimmerman admitted after the game.

As the highlight reels played on Thursday morning, Zimmerman’s homers were interspersed with two of the best plays he’s made at third base all season. The plays, both charging toward home plate and one barehanded, are a bit tougher to quantify. But for a guy who has admittedly struggled to make consistent throws across the diamond this season, there was nothing to hold your breath about on Wednesday.

So let’s take a deeper look at the home runs, which earned him high praise from the opposition.

“We couldn’t keep Zimmerman in the yard,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. “I think he hit one to left-center, one to center, one to right. I guess he gave us alittle break there and didn’t hit one down the left field line.

“He’s something. I can see why everyone you talk to who has a lot of National League experience will talk about what a great player he is.”

HR No. 1: Zimmerman’s first homer came on a 2-2 count. He’d already seen four fastballs and two curveballs from Chris Tillman when the Orioles right-hander, Tillman threw him a low, 93-mph fastball. Zimmerman crushed it.

According to Hittrackeronline.com, Zimmerman’s first home run — which clanked off the roof of the Orioles’ bullpen and sent his own relievers scattering for cover — went 429 feet. It left Camden Yards at 111.6 mph and was the longest home run that Zimmerman has hit this season.

HR No. 2: Moments before Zimmerman stepped to the plate this time, Tillman left a meaty changeup for Roger Bernadina to hit on to Eutaw Street. This time it was a 3-1 count in which Tillman again turned to a 93-mph fastball. This one was up in the zone, though. And Zimmerman again crushed it.

This one traveled 413 feet to center field, landing on the grassy section between the wall and the batter’s eye as Adam Jones began to climb the wall but then could only watch, and went out at 100.9 mph. It was Zimmerman’s first homer to straightaway center field all season.

HR No. 3: As opposed to his first two at-bats, this time there was a runner on base for Zimmerman. Denard Span, who’d doubled home Danny Espinosa two batter earlier, stood on second. Tillman threw Zimmerman a first-pitch slider this time for a called strike. 

Then he threw him four straight fastballs. On the fourth, another one up in the zone, Zimmerman sent it 402 feet to right field and it left the park at 102 mph.

By the time the night was over, Zimmerman had doubled his homer total for the season. He’d raised his average from .285 at the start of the game to .298 by the close of play. His slugging percentage had climbed a ridiculous 73 points (from .416 to .489). His OPS went up almost 100 points.

Tillman has now allowed eight home runs in his last three starts.

“I’ve been hitting the ball well the last couple weeks,” said Zimmerman, who is now hitting .341 in the month of May. “I haven’t really had much power or damage to show for it. But you’ve got to start before you gradually build up. It’d be cool to hit three home runs every day but it’s probably not going to happen.

“I didn’t really think about hitting two or three. I knew I had three home runs. I wasn’t trying to hit four home runs. The whole day and really the last couple weeks I’ve been trying to hit the ball hard. I’ve always been told that if you hit the ball hard good things will happen. Lately it’s been good. Before that it’s been a little bit of a scuffle. Unfortunately that happens a lot in the beginning of the years for me. Tonight was good. I’ve just got to build off that.”

Zimmerman also acknowledged how much hitting in Camden Yards can help.

“It’s always a good place to hit,” he said. “It’s tough to hit the ball. This has always been one of the best places to hit. It’s got a great batter’s eye. You can see the ball well. Really there’s not a bad place in the park to hit it. Most parks that are good htiters parks will have a deep left center or deep right center or something where you’ve got to hit it to get it out. But here it’s pretty nice all around… I’ll take that night offensively any day of the week.”