Each time in recent games Vinny Castilla made an out in an important situation and hobbled back to the dugout with his pride and left knee hurting, the call from fans came for Ryan Zimmerman, a rookie with a fresh face and fresh legs.
But Washington Nationals Manager Frank Robinson refused to ask a 20-year-old to get him to the playoffs. If the Nationals were to advance to the postseason, Robinson said, then it would be Castilla who would help get them there.
If Thursday's 6-5, 10-inning comeback win against the New York Mets helps get the Nationals into the playoffs, then Robinson can say Zimmerman and Castilla contributed.
It was Zimmerman who started the game-tying rally with a pinch-hit single to right field to lead off the ninth against Mets closer Braden Looper. Kenny Kelly, pinch-running for Zimmerman, scored the Nationals' fifth run on an error by New York second baseman Kazuo Matsui. Then in the 10th inning, Castilla singled to right field to drive in the winning run against Mets reliever Roberto Hernandez.
"I was just aggressive in that situation," Castilla said. "He threw me a fastball and I went with it."
Zimmerman's at-bat had been particularly impressive. He fouled off two tough pitches from Looper before singling, and advanced to second base when right fielder Gerald Williams misplayed the ball.
"This kid keeps coming along slowly," Robinson said of Zimmerman. "Baby steps. He's showing he's got an idea. Most young hitters in that spot would be swinging from their heels."
Though he has impressed Robinson and certainly has the support of the Washington front office, Zimmerman, the fourth overall pick in this year's draft, will remain on the bench in favor of Castilla.
"I'm not trying to get him spots," Robinson said. "We're riding the horse that brought us here. The ugly girl we asked to the dance is the one we're going with."
That "ugly girl," Castilla, said he has only recently been able to drive the ball harder despite the tendinitis in his left knee that has bothered him since spring training.
"I feel like I can shift my weight to my left leg," Castilla said. "That's the one that was hurting."
All season, Robinson has tried to get Castilla, a right-hander, to send balls toward right field. But perhaps only now that he is healthy, Castilla can drive the ball the other way. He had two hits to right field on Thursday.
"It's not that easy," Castilla said. "If it was that easy I'd hit all the balls to right field and bat 1.000."
Though Castilla may be the ugly girl, Zimmerman was the one wearing the dress at the end of the day. As part of his rookie initiation, Zimmerman was forced to wear a black and red dress. While trying to fit into the dress, Zimmerman, who had a locker near Castilla, asked for help in zipping up the garment.
"It's nice," Zimmerman said of the dress. "At least I'm not doing it by myself. It will be fun. That's part of the experience."
Zimmerman, who could not remember ever pinch-hitting in his college or high school career, said it has been an adjustment coming off the bench. When asked to choose whether wearing a dress or pinch-hitting had been his most difficult task of the day, Zimmerman quickly responded, "Pinch-hitting."