Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
A mob of teammates awaits Ryan Zimmerman at the plate.
It was as if Zimmerman -- whose latest walk-off home run gave the Nationals a stirring, 7-5 victory over the Phillies -- was telling his teammate and friend: "Sorry, I just stole your chance to be the hero."
"Letting me know that I'm not hitting again," Dunn said. "Kind of an ongoing deal. It's pretty cool."
"He says he's upset every time that happens in front of him," Zimmerman said. "I don't know how to take that."
However Zimmerman should take it, he could smile wildly tonight knowing he'll have plenty more opportunities to steal Dunn's thunder over the next two months and perhaps longer. Yes, despite a never-ending trail of rumors that left most of the baseball world convinced Dunn would be traded before 4 p.m. today, Mike Rizzo stuck to his guns and kept the big slugger.
There's still the little matter of a contract extension before everyone can breathe easy, but that's for another time. On this night, all that matters is this: Adam Dunn is still a National, Ryan Zimmerman hit another walk-off homer and the rejuvenated Nats have now won four of five against the Braves and Phillies.
"It was a good day," Zimmerman said. "Adam, a lot of us wanted him to stay around. We feel like we've got something good going here, and he's a big part of it. It's just a fun team to be a part of. And when I'm able to do stuff like that and help us win, it makes it even more fun."
Aside from Stephen Strasburg's dynamic debut June 8, this was perhaps the most-enjoyable day in NatsTown all season. Helping make that possible was a sellout gathering of 38,049 that featured a boatload of Phillies fans but also featured an appreciative hometown crowd that made its presence known right from the start.
When Dunn walked to the plate in the bottom of the first, they stood and applauded the man they desperately don't want to see leave. It was a genuinely heartfelt moment, and it genuinely moved Dunn.
"I really can't put it into words," he said. "It's one of those things that, when I retire, that's one of the things that will be at the top of my list to remember."
When the time comes and Dunn has to decide whether to agree to the Nats' final contract offer, you better believe he'll be thinking of that spontaneous show of support tonight from the stands. It's easy to be cynical and say money trumps everything else. But deep down, most professional athletes really just want to be loved.
D.C. has come to love Adam Dunn, and the big guy has come to realize that.
"People here like him, too," Zimmerman said. "I mean, he's a very good player. He hits 40 homers every year and plays every single day. I think a lot of people overlook that. He's out here every single day, whether he's feeling good or he's feeling bad. He does a lot in here that people don't see, either. He's a big part of this team."
There's a legitimate debate to be had over the question of whether Zimmerman, Dunn and Josh Willingham are a trio of offensive forces capable of leading this franchise to real success in the next two or three years. But at this point, don't the Nationals have to give this thing a shot? Don't they have to seize this opportunity in front of them and attempt to build a legitimate contender around Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham, Strasburg, Drew Storen, Jordan Zimmermann and Co.?
If for no other reason, the Nationals owe it to Zimmerman to keep this group together. For nearly five years, he's been a good soldier and carried this wayward franchise on his shoulders. At long last, he's not the only star on the roster. It's not just Zimmerman's team anymore. It's also Strasburg's team and Dunn's team.
And yet, if the game is on the line in the bottom of the ninth, there's still no one you'd rather have with a bat in his hands.
Tonight's laser beam off Brad Lidge was the seventh walk-off homer of Zimmerman's career. Since he debuted on Sept. 1, 2005, no one in baseball has hit more.
Why is he so successful in that situation?
"I wish I could tell you," he said. "I just treat it like any other at-bat. I try to think that the pressure's on [the pitcher] and not on me."
That's the key: Zimmerman is immune to pressure. Like a great closer who doesn't panic after loading the bases in the ninth and still records the save, Zimmerman remains calm and collected.
"He's relaxed," Jim Riggleman said. "When you're that prepared and you're that talented, it's a little easier to relax and take advantage if you get a pitch. ... I think the situation's not too big for him."
Zimmerman's latest moment of glory capped off a tense but ultimately satisfying day. Nerves were aplenty around the clubhouse as the final minutes ticked toward the 4 p.m. trade deadline. Once it passed and Dunn remained a member of this franchise, there was a collective sigh of relief from players. They were free to go out and play a ballgame.
They played a really good ballgame, too. And by night's end, you couldn't help but think this group deserves a chance to play a lot more ballgames like this next year and beyond.
"We want everyone to stay here," Zimmerman said. "Unfortunately, when you're on a team that's  games under .500, you're going to lose some of your teammates. But we feel like we have a good core group of teammates here. Adam and Josh are a big part of that, too. I want them to stay here as long as I'm here. That's the plan."
Fans can only hope that's also the front office's plan.