Zimmerman Is Nats' Action Hero

alfonso soriano - washington nationals
Alfonso Soriano cheers on Brian Schneider's three-run home run in the seventh inning Wednesday. (John McDonnell - The Post)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 17, 2006

One night in the life of a rookie in the big leagues, from the mouth of Ryan Zimmerman, goes something like this.

"I made an error," he said. "I made a diving play. I had a bat hit me. I struck out swinging at a ball. Home run." Anything else? Oh yeah. "Sliding into first base."

Could be a whole week, but it was wrapped up nicely in the Washington Nationals' 9-6 victory over the Atlanta Braves last night at RFK Stadium, a game in which Zimmerman committed his 10th error to start a Braves' rally, halted the same outburst with a fine lunging stop down the line, came to the plate the following inning against Braves ace John Smoltz and belted a home run, and keyed a four-run Nationals second inning by making a play that his hard-to-please manager called "heads-up."

"There was pretty much anything you can expect in a game," Zimmerman said.

The Nationals beat the Braves for the second straight night because Zimmerman drove in three runs, because suddenly resurgent catcher Brian Schneider took a one-run game and made things more comfortable with a three-run homer, and because the Nationals' bullpen managed to hold Atlanta to one run over the final 3 1/3 innings.

"It's nice to win," said left-hander Billy Traber, who did so for the second time in as many starts since he returned from the minors, although he gave up four earned runs and several oddly bouncing balls found holes against him on what was, on the whole, a strange night at RFK.

The Nationals can close out this 10-game homestand with a series victory over the Braves by winning this afternoon's finale. They have that chance in part because Zimmerman found himself at the center of so much last night. For the most part, as he has during this increasingly impressive rookie season, he responded, despite the fact that he made the error, despite the fact that he came into the game in a 2-for-16 slide.

"He doesn't hang his head," Manager Frank Robinson said of his 21-year-old rookie of the year candidate. "I think he understands that physical errors are part of the game."

He understands the game, period. The Nationals' four-run second inning -- one in which Smoltz, who needed 110 pitches to get through five innings, allowed six hits -- could have been a missed opportunity because of a base running gaffe by Traber. With one out, the lefty drew a walk and advanced to second on Soriano's RBI single. The next hitter, Felipe Lopez, hit a rocket of a line drive to right, a clear double. Except Traber stood near second base, holding up.

"I just went blank," he said. "I'm not very used to being on base."

The result was chaos. Traber eventually took third, though he should have scored easily. Lopez ended up on second. Soriano was caught between the two, and was tagged out. When Traber came back to the dugout, Robinson asked him if he knew the ball was a base hit. Traber, according to Robinson, said, "I haven't been out to second base for a long time." Robinson laughed.

"What are you going to do?" Robinson said.

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