“I probably should have put him on,” Johnson said. “But I like Clip against left-handers.”
Clippard moved ahead of Davis 0-2 and tried to make him chase a change-up. But he left the pitch too far over the plate, and Davis blasted his 19th homer deep to right.
“I’m trying to use his aggressiveness to my advantage,” Clippard said. “I did that the first two pitches. I’m trying to get that change-up out of the zone. I just left it up. It was off the plate by a hair but not enough.”
For so long, it appeared the night belonged to Zimmerman. He became the eighth player to blast three homers at Camden Yards and the third National to do so overall, joining Adam Dunn and Alfonso Soriano. Through happenstance or maybe some greater force, Zimmerman’s career night landed on World MS Day. Zimmerman’s mother, Cheryl, has battled multiple sclerosis since Zimmerman’s youth, and Zimmerman founded a charity, ziMS, to raise awareness.
In his previous 22 games, Zimmerman had hit .338 with a .430 on-base percentage. Still, Johnson wanted more. In those 80 at-bats, Zimmerman had managed just six extra-base hits, including two homers. He had launched only three homers in 137 at-bats all season. Johnson implored Zimmerman to pull the ball more often in order to hit with more power. Zimmerman was clogging the bases; Johnson wanted damage, too.
“I’ve been hitting the ball well the last couple weeks,” Zimmerman said. “I haven’t really had much power to show for it. But you gotta start before you gradually build up.”
In the first inning Wednesday, Zimmerman came to the plate with two outs and none on. Chris Tillman fired a low, 2-2, 92-mph fastball. Zimmerman walloped it into the back bullpen beyond the left field fence, some 430 feet from home plate.
In the fourth, Roger Bernadina led off and clobbered the 68th homer ever to land on Eutaw Street. Only one National — Dunn — had ever done that.
Zimmerman came to the plate and crushed another homer off Tillman, whom he had never previously faced, this one a bullet to center field that traveled roughly 420 feet. Zimmerman batted with a man on with two outs the fifth inning, again facing Tillman. He torched a fastball just to left of the big scoreboard in right field, giving him four RBI and the Nationals a 6-2 lead.
Zimmerman had one more chance, in the seventh. “I knew I had three home runs,” Zimmerman said. “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.”
Steve Johnson froze him with a 1-2 fastball. Zimmerman bent his knee and spun around, headed back to the dugout. His chance at history had vanished, and the Nationals would soon only want to forget the night.
“Well, that one hurt,” Davey Johnson said. “This ballpark will eat you alive.”