WASHINGTON -- Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner surveyed batting practice Tuesday in his red Nationals jacket, watching everything he pursued coming to fruition.
His family’s team was one win from its first World Series berth. Often tense when watching even regular-season games, Lerner felt a bit of joy with his team so close to a conclusion which seemed so distant at the start of the season.
“Obviously I wasn’t too happy, nobody was,” Lerner said. “I couldn’t imagine what happened the rest of the season. I would have never believed where we are today. A turnaround like that only happens once in a blue moon, so I can’t say I totally expected it. I didn’t.”
When the crumbling season hit its low point May 23, Lerner had options. He could fire Davey Martinez. He could have demanded several other changes. He, like everyone else, had the choice to panic as a result of his irritation with the team’s beginning. Instead, he kept the manager his family preferred over Dusty Baker, the one who was assigned a clear edict when hired: take us to the World Series.
“It never crossed my mind to dismiss Davey, no matter all the pressure that was put on us,” Lerner said. “I think he’s become a very, very good manager, and I think in the years to come he will become a great manager. I have total confidence in him and delighted that all these good things are happening. Nobody deserves it more than him.”
Slowly, his team began to pivot. Winning months followed. The rallying perpetuated until the end of the season, culminating with a 3-0 start to the National League Championship series. “I was talking to my sister [Tuesday] it’s just hard to believe, just the whole thing,” Lerner said. “Even if we didn’t have this turnaround season, if it was just a solid season, to get to this point is just such a special thing and we’re in uncharted waters. The Cardinals have been through it, the Dodgers have been through it, this is all new for everybody in this building. So it’s very special.”
Anthony Rendon’s best season as a professional was central to the push. Rendon is set to become a free agent after multiple negotiation attempts to reach a contract extension failed. Lerner lauded Rendon in spring training. He did so again Tuesday.
“We certainly want to keep him,” Lerner said. “That's 110 percent. It's really in Tony's and his family's hands at this point. They have to decide what they want to do. He's earned that right as a free agent. It couldn't happen to a better guy. We love him to death. And I hope that his decision is to stay here and I'll go pick him up and bring him over.”
For now, Lerner will spend his time watching Game 4 and his club, eventually, advancing to the World Series with one more win. No team with a 3-0 lead has lost the NLCS.
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