Davey Johnson played in the same infield as Brooks Robinson and he manages Ryan Zimmerman, so he is the authority on this matter: Could Robinson have the made the flying, full-extension, stunning play Zimmerman made Sunday afternoon in the seventh inning?
“No,” Johnson said.
That play, one of the most spectacular plays of his career, capped a classic defensive effort for Zimmerman in an 8-5 loss to the Reds. He also made a what’s-he-doing-there recovery after a dropped sacrifice bunt and a diving catch of another bunt. If you had a ticket Sunday, you may be telling your grandkids about those plays.
“Highlight film,” Johnson said. “All in one day.”
But the plays also came on a day Zimmerman went 0 for 5, extending his rocky start to the season. He has hit several line drives that found gloves, including two would-be homers that the wind killed at Wrigley Field. He also has seven walks and seven strikeouts, a promising ratio. But Zimmerman is hitting .179/.312/.256 and still looking for his first home run.
After he struck out swinging in his last plate appearance, Zimmerman, angry at a called strike earlier in the at-bat, spiked his helmet and chucked his bat, a rare show of emotion for him.
“It’s frustrating,” Zimmerman said. “But, you know, it’s 10 games. It’s not going to be the last time I hit whatever I’m hitting for 10 games. I’ll probably do worse at some point over the next eight years, I’m sure. It’s so early. But it’s frustrating. Any time you continually hit the ball day in and day out pretty hard and get nothing to show for it, nobody wants that to happen.”
Sunday, Zimmerman made up for his lack of production with his glove. The most scintillating play came in the seventh. With one out, Zimmerman shaded one step toward the line, trying to take away a double in a one-run game. Ryan Ludwick smashed a Ryan Mattheus splitter down the third base line.
Zimmerman took one step and launched himself behind the base. Fully stretched, horizontal to the ground, Zimmerman snagged the ball. He hopped from his belly to his feet and fired a laser across the diamond.
At first base, the funniest thing happened. Ludwick, assuming his rocket had skipped into left field, had bellied out to make the turn at first base. “He was figuring on trotting into second,” Johnson said. “I’ve never seen that.”
Instead, Ludwick tried to scamper to first, three steps too late, as shocked as anyone in the park, Zimmerman’s latest victim.
“One of the best plays I’ve ever seen, especially when I’m pitching,” Mattheus said. “The most impressive part was, he got up and made the throw. That was an unbelievable catch. He had a rough night the other night, and then he made two Web Gems tonight.”
Zimmerman’s other highlights came on bunt plays. In the third, pitcher Mike Leake popped up a bunt attempt in front of the plate. The ball plopped out of Wilson Ramos’s glove and tricked across the third base line. Zimmerman had been charging, and scrambled to pick up the ball and made an on-target from a spot in foul territory he had surely never thrown from before.
“Unbelievable,” Johnson said. “When we dropped the bunt, I said, ‘No, no.’ I saw some blur come over there and scoop up and throw over there. But I was so amazed that he was even able to do that.”
Said Zimmerman: “That was just kind of right place at the right time. He was going to catch it, so I just moved over, and it bounced right to me. If it bounces anywhere else, I don’t have a shot.”
Zimmerman stole another sac bunt in the 10th, charging in and sliding on his stomach to catch Wilson Valdez’s botched attempt. He had not reached base himself, but he had still affected the game.
“If I’m not getting any hits, I’ll just take hits away,” Zimmerman said, smiling. “That’s the plan.”