After a 15-year wait that included 1,689 regular season MLB games and 6,399 at-bats, Nationals veteran first baseman Ryan Zimmerman finally has his chance to participate in a World Series and he made his first at-bat in the Fall Classic a special memory.
In the top of the second inning of Game 1 of the 2019 World Series, Zimmerman blasted a Gerrit Cole pitch to deep center field for a home run to become the 38th player in baseball history to hit a homer in his first World Series at-bat.
He also became the third oldest player to accomplish the feat at 35 years/24 days. The two players who were more advanced in age were Barry Bonds of the Giants on Oct. 19, 2002 when he was 38 years/87 days and Bob Watson of the Yankees on Oct. 20, 1981 when he was 35 years/193 days.
Zimmerman’s home run was the first in team franchise history in World Series competition and with the Nationals winning the game, 5-4, the moment is more special and could become an iconic memory for the veteran slugger if Washington can walk away with a Series victory.
Among the 38 players who have homered in their first World Series at-bat, only three hit 500 or more career homers—Bonds, David Ortiz, and Mel Ott. Two have been elected to the Hall of Fame—Ott and Brooks Robinson—and like 19 others, Zimmerman would like to be the 20th to lead his team to a World Series triumph.
“You know,” said Brooks Robinson, “The home run in my first World Series at-bat is something to remember, especially when it came off such an outstanding pitcher like Don Drysdale, but the greatest memory is that we won. Winning the World Series is the pinnacle of a players career and to achieve that in 1966 against a great Dodgers team was so satisfying and a great memory and accomplishment. The home run was nothing I was looking to do, it just happened and it helped our team get an early lead and win the crucial opening game of the Series. I remember it well, but the victory over the Dodgers is the memory I share.”
While Robinson was a star on an Orioles squad that won the 1966 World Series over the Los Angeles Dodgers in a four-game sweep, Mickey Hatcher was a foot soldier on the 1988 Dodgers that upset the Oakland A’s in the Fall Classic and Hatcher became the 20th player to homer in his first World Series AB in that match.
He was a spot player for the Dodgers and was the leading hitter of the shockingly short five-game Series with a .368 average, two homers, and five RBIs while playing errorless defense as a replacement for Kirk Gibson in left field. When all was said and done, he made manager Tommy Lasorda look like a genius for inserting him in the lineup.
“Mickey Hatcher?” said Lasorda after the Dodgers had taken Game 5 at the Oakland Coliseum, 5-2. “I thought his name was Jimmie Foxx! What a job he’s done. We wanted him to give us a spark and he did.
“He is one of the great unsung heroes of the season. Every team needs a Mickey Hatcher. You can’t win without foot soldiers, and Mickey Hatcher is one of the most valuable of my foot soldiers. No matter where I put him, he does the job.”
In Hatcher’s first World Series at-bat, it came in the first inning of Game 1 off A’s starter Dave Stewart and gave Los Angeles a 2-0 lead in a contest they would win on Gibson’s historic walk-off blast against ace reliever Dennis Eckersley in the bottom of the ninth.
Hatcher’s second homer of the Series came in Game 5. In the first inning of the final game of the Series. He ripped a home run to the left field seats to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead against pitcher Storm Davis and send LA on their way to a jubilant finish.
“The pitch (a fastball) was up and in, and he turned on it,” said Davis. “I didn’t know he had that kind of power, but I guess he does. He hit the same kind of pitch against Stewart in Game 1.”
All kinds of players have hit home runs in their first World Series at-bat—stars, foot soldiers, pitchers, pinch hitters, and unknowns. Zimmerman is at a point in his career where he is no longer the star hitter he’s been during his 15 years in the majors, and he’s certainly not an unknown. Because injury limited him to only 52 games in 2019 and 137 over the last two years, he has not been a regular starter and is more in the role of a Mickey Hatcher—a valuable foot soldier who is a leader on his club and can change the direction of a game with one swing.
For Washington fans, let’s hope Ryan Zimmerman can add more punch to the Nats and he can walk away with a World Series ring in a Series that he homered in his first at-bat.