Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has played almost seven full seasons in the big leagues plus another month as a rookie call-up in September of 2005. Few of those 978 baseball games have had any real significance in the standings. Few players in the sport have known more losing, day-after-day, year-after-year.

In the games Zimmerman actually played prior to 2012 his team’s record was 355-488. Between his first game on Sept. 1, 2005 and the final contest of the 2011 season, Washington was never higher than six games over .500. The Nats entered a given day above .500 at all just 71 times.

So while Zimmerman tried to downplay the significance of his club clinching its first playoff berth Thursday – the first for any Washington, D.C. baseball team in 79 years – it rang a bit hollow for a player who has waited his entire career to finally win something, anything. The National League East title is still there for the taking and that’s the next step. But even a seat at the postseason table had to feel pretty good to the player long ago, much to his chagrin, dubbed the “face of the franchise”.

“This whole organization is way bigger than any one person. They’ve done it the right way. They’ve done everything from the ground up,” Zimmerman said. “They didn’t take any shortcuts, and it took a while. But I think we’re set up to be this good for a long time, and I think that’s what makes it even sweeter. We went through those years where we didn’t really have much of a chance. And now we’re set up to have a good chance for the next 5 or 10 years. It kind of makes it worth it.”

A handful of players have seen and participated in some awful baseball over the years. Lefty pitcher John Lannan made his big-league debut in 2007. Outfielder Roger Bernadina first came up in 2008. Ian Desmond still talks about how miserable the atmosphere was when he first arrived as a late-season recall in 2009 – a second straight 59-win season. Ross Detwiler, Thursday’s winning pitcher, came up for one game in 2007 and another 15 in 2009. Craig Stammen was a starter for most of 2009. Catcher Jesus Flores was the back-up catcher in 2007 and 2008 and earned the starting job in 2009 before suffering a serious shoulder injury in May. Michael Morse was acquired via trade in 2009, but had just 52 at-bats that season in the big leagues.  So no one on the team’s roster can claim to have endured as much as Zimmerman.

It’s been a long time coming. It’s good. I’m excited, I’m happy. I’m glad I’m a part of it,” outfielder Jayson Werth said. “I’m excited for guys like Zim and Det and Bernie, the guys that have been here a long time and experienced a lot of losing. This has kind of happened all of the sudden and a lot sooner than everyone thought.”

“I can’t imagine,” added first baseman Adam LaRoche. “I’ve been on some really bad teams, not for that length of time, so I am sure it’s a big relief for him. Kind of, all those years of struggles are now paying off.”

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