- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 14, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO | Ryan Zimmerman stood before a pack of reporters and cameras, suddenly the center of attention for something he didn’t do on the field Wednesday afternoon, and answered questions about not getting a base hit for the first time in 31 games.

The Washington Nationals third baseman’s answers underscored where his true passion has rested all along. He was never in this to try to set a hitting-streak record. He was in this to win ballgames. And because the Nationals won Wednesday 6-3 over the San Francisco Giants, it didn’t matter that Zimmerman went 0-for-3 with a pair of walks and had his run come to an end.

“Would I love to get a hit every game? Sure,” he said. “I’m still going to try to get a hit every single game. But the fact that we won to end this West Coast trip .500… that’s probably the best we’ve done on the West Coast in a while. We’re growing up. We’re getting better, and we’re doing things right. It’s a step forward.”

That moment right there, those words, explain why the Nationals were so happy to have drafted him out of Virginia four years ago and why they were elated to sign him to a five-year extension last month.

Zimmerman was happy to trade in his 30-game hitting streak for a Washington win.

“The streak was nice while it lasted,” manager Manny Acta said. “But it’s about winning, and it’s about the Nationals. And the kid, what makes him special is I know he’s going to have a nice flight home after we won. That’s what he cares about.”

The pertinent developments for the Nationals on Wednesday had nothing to do with their star third baseman. Rather, they centered on another strong performance from rookie right-hander Shairon Martis, who tossed seven innings of one-run ball to improve to 5-0.

They centered on another big day at the plate for Nick Johnson, who had four hits and an RBI to raise his average to .333.

And they centered on a beleaguered bullpen that managed to string together enough outs to close another tense game and send the Nationals home with a 4-4 record on a long trip through Los Angeles, Arizona and San Francisco.

But the important story line, of course, was the string of games in which Zimmerman recorded at least one hit. Through it all, he kept things in perspective. He enjoyed the streak, but it never consumed him. Analytical by nature, he was more interested in the mental aspect of the streak and how he could benefit from it.

Any hope Wednesday of Zimmerman extending the streak in the first - as he had done the previous three days, all with line-drive singles up the middle - was dashed when he grounded into a 4-6-3 double play in his first plate appearance.

That set the tone for a tense afternoon in which the star third baseman had limited opportunities to swing the bat. He walked in his second plate appearance, fouling off a 3-2 pitch from Barry Zito before taking ball four. He then grounded out to shortstop his third time up.

By the time Zimmerman stepped to the plate again in the seventh inning with runners on first and second, the pressure was mounting. But when Zito bounced his first pitch in the dirt, allowing both runners to advance, baseball strategy took precedence over history. Giants manager Bruce Bochy instructed Zito to intentionally walk Zimmerman, eliciting some boos from the crowd of 30,120 but not from the Nationals’ dugout.

“Once the wild pitch happened, we had no choice,” Bochy said. “You are behind in the count, and you have the hottest hitter in baseball up there. You are trying to limit the damage.”

“They’re trying to win the game,” Zimmerman said. “They’re not trying to cater to my hitting streak. I got another chance. I had five chances to do it. I missed some pitches. That’s what cost me.”

Indeed, Zimmerman missed out in his fifth plate appearance, grounding into a fielder’s choice that officially ended the streak but was greeted with a standing ovation from the visiting crowd.

“I enjoyed it,” he said. “I had fun with it. I’m not relieved that it’s over, because I would have liked to do it as long as I can. But it will be nice to kind of go back to your routine and not be worried about every hit.”

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