What people say, and when, is always something the sports world circles back to. Make a bad trade? The verbal justification for it saddles an executive like a yoke. Assure an outcome and follow through? Ask Joe Namath how that works out.
In the case of the 2019 Nationals, the fluctuation was so grand, yelling that the manager should be fired and grousing about the manager not having his option picked up occurred in the same year. So, as we wait for baseball to hopefully return at some point this season, let’s look back at five quotes which defined the time and remain intriguing in retrospect.
May 23, 2019
“Things are going to change. Things are going to change. And I know that. So we just got to keep pounding away, keep playing baseball. There's good players in that clubhouse, really good players. We'll turn things around.”
— Davey Martinez
Guess what just happened? Yes, a sweep in New York, 19-31, Martinez on the hot seat and woo boy, what a mess.
The statement felt tone deaf at the time. Martinez’s eternally upbeat persona began to look aloof or misguided. Did this guy not get it? Not understand what was happening a year after missing the playoffs? Didn’t he know his job could be in the balance? What if they fall on their face when returning home for a three-game series against Miami?
The next night carried some of the ugliness seen in New York and earlier. But, the slop was thrown about with Miami in Nationals Park. The margins for mistakes were wider. Juan Soto hit a three-run home run in the eighth. Matt Adams also homered. The Nationals went from down 9-8 to up 12-8. Sean Doolittle, extracting himself from a rare meltdown as his contribution to the New York debacle, allowed a run, but survived.
Afterward, Martinez entered the press conference room simultaneously on edge and relieved. They didn’t play well, yet snapped a five-game losing streak which was the back end of a 7-15 run. When a reporter suggested to Martinez a win is a win, is a win, he said, “You took the words out of my mouth.”
Sept. 3, 2019
— Davey Martinez
Guess what just happened? Yes, the Kurt Suzuki walk-off against the Mets.
Washington had a season-defining win almost 3 ½ months after the season’s nadir in New York. They showed signs of perpetual rallying even when things were bad. They just couldn’t finish it off, making too many mistakes or under-performing to a point of undermining their chances.
The particulars of that night remain relevant when looking at what was to come: The Nationals trailed 4-1, 4-2, 5-2, 5-4 and 10-4. And yet they found a way back. No other game served as a better microcosm of the entire season. Washington was behind all season, starting back in May, continuing at the All-Star break, and again Sept. 3 against the Mets, until, in the end, it figured out a way.
The Mets carried a 99.9 percent expected win probability when the top of the ninth ended. They still held a 69 percent expected win probability when Suzuki went into a 3-2 count with one out against Edwin Diaz after laying off a couple sliders, then swinging through one. Suzuki fouled off a 100.2-mph fastball. He fouled off a 99.3-mph fastball. Then, boom, on a 99.9-mph fastball.
“When I came in here, I didn’t really know what just happened,” Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo said. “It kind of just seemed like a bad dream. That’s hard to do even in a Little League game I feel like, to come back from seven runs down in the bottom of the ninth against guys throwing 99 miles an hour. I don’t really have words for that.”
Mike Rizzo pointed to this day during spring training when explaining why he was later of the belief they could rally in the playoffs.
“Since that Mets game when we came back in the ninth, I thought we could beat anyone, anytime and we were never out of it.”
Oct. 1, 2019
“Maybe it's finally our turn.”
— Ryan Zimmerman
Zimmerman, finally, had moved out of a round in the playoffs. The Nationals had not won a series, but they had survived against Josh Hader and the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Wild-Card Game.
Soto’s single to right field assured a tie in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Nationals again had rallied, this time against Hader, who entered the game with a 3-1 lead after a regular season in which he allowed two or more runs in an outing five times in 61 appearances.
But, it was the bounce of the ball combined with an overrun by right fielder Trent Grisham which prompted the chaos and quote. Anthony Rendon scored all the way from first. Soto’s excitement led to him getting into a rundown and ending the inning. Beer flew in the stands.
Afterward, Zimmerman recounted the small, often hard to believe, things which went against the Nationals in postseasons of the past. From Pete Kozma to the fifth inning against the Cubs. All the powerhouse teams which failed not just when trying to win the World Series, but when trying to finish a series and advance.
“You have to catch some breaks, but more importantly, you have to take advantage of them,” Zimmerman said. “In the past, it seems like it's gone the other way, but tonight we caught a couple breaks.”
On to Los Angeles.
Oct. 9, 2019
“He's the epitome of a professional hitter. He's what, he's like 45 years old and still doing this.”
— Anthony Rendon
Rendon, of course, was talking about Howie Kendrick during the postgame glow after Game 5 of the National League Division Series. Kendrick’s 10th-inning grand slam instantly became the biggest hit in Nationals history, supplanting Soto’s single from the Wild-Card Game. It put Washington three outs from the National League Championship Series. Sean Doolittle recorded them.
Kendrick’s season was set to deliver another hit which will forever live in Nationals lore. At this point, he was operating as the wide-shouldered veteran who put together the best year of his career when a team was in desperate need of it.
Kendrick played just the right amount. His 370 plate appearances were his most since 2016. Washington had no choice. He was hitting too well and Zimmerman was stalled by plantar fasciitis. The limited work -- though more than the Nationals likely preferred -- allowed Kendrick to be fresh during the postseason. He delivered a grand slam in Los Angeles and a ball off the foul pole in Houston which changed everything.
Oct. 31, 2019
“Everybody had a moment.”
— Max Scherzer
Scherzer was booze-soaked and exhausted. Not long before this statement in the Nationals’ manic clubhouse, he was wandering the field looking for no one and everyone. He appeared lost despite being in the middle of a crazed crowd on the field. The infield graduated from the tension of Game 7 of the World Series to a party platform. It was all a bit much at first.
His moments came from an unlikely Game 7 start days after his neck was so rigid he “fell out of bed.” Even that became a break. Joe Ross replaced Scherzer in Game 5, which made him available for a tank-emptying appearance in Game 7. And, the Nationals had to do all this the hard way -- losing three consecutive games at home to fall behind 3-2 -- before finishing it off. It was apt for a laborious season which featured climbing out of holes more often than anyone’s doctor would recommend.
But, at the start of Halloween, they were done. The Nationals were World Series champions in the heart of Texas. Scherzer leaned against the concrete wall just outside the Nationals’ clubhouse and tried to make sense of what happened. He knew he would be exhausted from the workload and alcohol consumption. He knew he needed to figure out the back problems which nagged him much of the season. He also knew he -- they -- had made it. His second World Series appearance delivered a win. The soreness and headache would fade. His back would heal. The only thing guaranteed to remain was what they did.
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