- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

This is the way a legacy is created — big moments over a career that are someday documented in books and, in today’s world, on Web sites.

Everyone leaves a mark in baseball. Every player receives an entry in The Baseball Encyclopedia, and now likely gets a place in cyberspace as well.

But for some players, moments are the building blocks of something bigger — something more than a line or two in a reference book or on a Web site somewhere.

Ryan Zimmerman had that kind of moment yesterday.

The Washington Nationals’ rookie third baseman — already seemingly on his way to becoming a major league star — laid the foundation for that process. With his team trailing the New York Yankees 2-1 in the ninth inning, Zimmerman hit a two-run homer for a 3-2 win, sending the Nationals fans among the 45,157 at RFK Stadium home talking about the kid and talking about greatness.

Premature? Absolutely. Overreaction? Probably.

But when a player hits a walk-off home run before a sold-out crowd to defeat the New York Yankees, it’s not a time for perspective.

It was a great moment, and great moments someday add up to greatness.

The moment was something Zimmerman had never experienced before, at any level of baseball.

He was obviously saving it for the Yankees.

“That’s the first time I ever had any type of walk-off hit in my career,” Zimmerman said. “Doing it against [the Yankees] and having it be a home run is pretty great. To do that against a team like them, that you grew up idolizing and watching all the time is a good feeling.”

Even Zimmerman, the poised, cool rookie who handles himself like a 10-year veteran, couldn’t contain himself as he headed for home plate, with a roaring stadium full of fans around him and the whole team waiting to greet him. He tossed his batting helmet high in the air — taking a page from David Ortiz — and jumped into the waiting arms of his teammates.

He assured everyone he had stepped on home plate.

“If you can’t get up and have a lot of joy and happiness over that, then there is something wrong with you,” his manager Frank Robinson said. “I was glad to see him show how he felt. That’s the way we all felt about it.”

And so it begins. The crowd stood and cheered until Zimmerman finally came out and took a curtain call rarely seen at RFK Stadium. Someday, there probably will be about 200,000 people who will swear they were on their feet taking part in that curtain call the Sunday afternoon in June when Ryan Zimmerman hit a game-winning home run to defeat the mighty Yankees.

The home run, at least for the moment, changed the perception of this Nationals team, which came back to win two of three from the Yankees in dramatic fashion this weekend before a three-day crowd of nearly 135,000.

The Nationals have been up and down. Back in May, in the first game of a three-game series against the Orioles at RFK, the team seemed on the brink of collapse, with a 5-1 loss dropping their record to 14-28. There was surrender in the air that night.

Then they battled back and were the hottest team in baseball for a month, posting a 17-7 record and climbing back to within four games of .500. Until the Rockies came to RFK on Monday and swept four games. After losing the first game of the Yankees series Friday night, after blowing a 5-3 lead, surrender could have easily been an option — particularly given the bitter feelings over the bullpen embarrassment, the firing of bullpen coach John Wetteland and the continuing talk of trading all the team’s veterans in the coming weeks.

But while this team may be a lot of things, quitter apparently isn’t one of them. The Nationals gave their fans a great win Saturday, coming back from a 7-0 deficit to beat the Yankees 11-9. And then yesterday, Zimmerman gave the fans a great moment — and a moment that was desperately needed — as they leave town to face the Red Sox for three games as part of a nine-game road trip.

“This was huge, to go out on the road after two wins like we accomplished in the last two ball games, especially the way we won them,” Robinson said. “We couldn’t ask for much better going out on the road.

“Both teams were trying to find a way to win this game today, because it would have done either side a world of good to have won today,” Robinson said. “I’m really happy for those guys in there, because they battled their tails off. They could have crawled into a hole, but they didn’t.”

No crawling yesterday — only jumping and high-fives and tales of greatness to be told.

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