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Re-live Howie Kendrick's grand slam in the 10th inning of the NLDS

Re-live Howie Kendrick's grand slam in the 10th inning of the NLDS

There’s a new biggest moment in Nationals history. The architect? Howie Kendrick.

Kendrick had a rough NLDS entering Game 5, and his struggles continued with an error and another tough night at the plate.

But when it mattered most -- and really, when can it matter more than extra innings of a winner-take-all postseason game? -- Kendrick came through.


Dodgers manager Dave Roberts inexplicably left in the mercurial Joe Kelly to pitch the top of the 10th inning against the heart of the Nationals’ order. He was trying to get past Adam Eaton and Anthony Rendon, before going with a lefty to face Juan Soto. This would have saved all-world closer Kenley Jansen for another inning or situation.

Instead, Kelly walked Eaton and gave up a double to Rendon. After intentionally walking Soto, Roberts *still* left Kelly on the mound to face the ice cold Kendrick.

Then came the magic.

Kendrick roped a ball just right of center, and it never stopped carrying. It was just the second extra-inning grand slam in postseason history, in the 13th extra-inning elimination game in postseason history.

Any way you slice it, this was an unforgettable moment in the history of not only the Washington Nationals, but Major League Baseball as a whole.

What a swing. What a home run. What a moment.

Stay in the fight? The Nationals are bringing the fight now, and the latest punch came from Howie Kendrick. 


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Howie Kendrick overcame career-threatening injury. Now he’s a playoff hero

Howie Kendrick overcame career-threatening injury. Now he’s a playoff hero

Howie Kendrick lay in a heap on the outfield grass at Nationals Park, a grimace creasing his face. 
The diagnosis: A torn right Achilles tendon. During an otherwise nondescript first game of a doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 19, 2018, just eight weeks before his 35th birthday, Kendrick’s career was suddenly in question. 
Seventeen months later, Kendrick had one of the great days of his career on Monday night. And this is a man who just last week hit a grand slam to secure a National League Division series upset over the Dodgers. 
For the first time since 2008, back when he was a third-year, part-time player for the Los Angeles Angels, Kendrick hit three doubles in a game. That outburst helped put the Nationals one win away from the World Series in an 8-1 victory that gave them a 3-0 series lead in the National League Championship Series. 
“I guess some of the best things come from the unexpected moments,” Kendrick said. 
A two-out double in the third inning gave Washington a 4-0 lead. With two out in the fifth, Kendrick did it again. That one drove home Anthony Rendon to make it 5-0. Kendrick scored the sixth run when Ryan Zimmerman followed with a double. One more two-out double in the seventh inning set the stage for yet another Zimmerman double and Kendrick’s run made it 8-1. 
Maybe this should be no surprise. Kendrick has always been able to hit. He batted .344 in 121 games this season. Now 36, Kendrick allows that he can’t play every day. So Washington manager Davey Martinez used him a few times a week. Kendrick started 70 games - 35 at first base, 18 at second base and another 10 at third with seven games in American League ballparks as the designated hitter. He came off the bench 51 more times. 
It all helped keep Kendrick fresh and, other than a 10-day stint on the Injured List at the beginning of August with a hamstring strain, it kept him healthy, too. 
“He wants it, and the rest of his teammates feed off of that, and they see it,” Martinez said. “We're all big fans of Howie. Every one of us in that clubhouse, and what he does on the field, off the field. He's been that quiet leader for us all year long.”
Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle remembers their battles in the late innings of A.L. West games when he pitched for the Oakland A’s and Kendrick was still with the Angels. Almost every at bat became a war of attrition. You might get Kendrick out. Most of the time he took a piece of you with him back to the bench. 
“I saw more than enough of him when he was in Anaheim and I was in Oakland. He just grinds out at bats. He doesn’t give you anything,” Doolittle said. “He’s added length to this lineup hitting in that five, six spot. People think once they navigate [Anthony] Rendon and [Juan] Soto…I don’t know if they overlook him a little bit, but it’s almost like they let their guard down and he gets them.”  
Kendrick is a Swiss army knife. He can platoon at first base, he fills in at second and third. Martinez chose not to risk him in the outfield this season, where his legs would take an unnecessary pounding. But late in games, he was a weapon off the bench and a nightmare matchup for opposing managers with 13 pinch hits in 36 at bats (.361). And his teammates loved that Kendrick embraced that role. 
Because he had signed a two-year contract with Washington before the 2018 season, Kendrick was shielded from the harsh realities of free agency for a soon-to-be 36-year-old coming off an Achilles tear. The Nationals saw how well Kendrick’s rehab was progressing. They were hopeful they’d have his unique skill set back for 2019. But no one knew for sure.  
“That was really scary when that happened,” Doolittle said. “But the dude is a beast man.”
Added teammate Adam Eaton: “It’s an Achilles and he’s 30-whatever years old. There’s definitely always a question mark. But if you know Howie and you’re around him, you know he’s one of the hardest workers. He’s dedicated. He knows his body really well and it shows. It’s unbelievable how he’s been able to come back and produce so effectively.”
Kendrick worked on his swing throughout the offseason with Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long. They both live in the Phoenix area and the first time Kendrick met Long he was handed a sheet of paper with ideas for how he could develop a more efficient swing. That was unexpected, but welcome. 
Kendrick gave former manager Dusty Baker some thanks, too. All that work continued into the 2018 season with Long and Washington assistant hitting coach Joe Dillon, but the injury ruined a good start to the season. 
It’s a testament to just how much Washington relies on Kendrick that before his grand slam against the Dodgers he was taking heat maybe for the first time all year. Kendrick had 5 hits in his first 22 playoff at-bats with just one RBI and all his hits were singles. He’d also made three errors in the field at first and second base. 
All of that changed with the Game 5 NLDS grand slam that will make him a legend in the District forever. He is 5-for-12 against the Cardinals with four doubles and four RBI in just three games. He and his teammates are one win away from an N.L. pennant. Howie Kendrick is absorbing the moment.  
“I enjoy it all because without all the mistakes and all the hardships and all the successes earlier in my career, none of this would be available,” Kendrick said. “None of this would be possible without all that. I talk with Max [Scherzer] quite a bit, and we're like, man, don't you wish you could go back and be how you are now then? And he goes, no, I wouldn't change it because all those failures are helping you with the success now. And I think that's the way I look at it. Even now my failures still help me be successful. You appreciate it even more.” 



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Nats are charging toward World Series and making it look shockingly easy

Nats are charging toward World Series and making it look shockingly easy

WASHINGTON -- So, this is what is must have been like. This is what it must have felt like to be the teams the Nationals lost to in the playoffs over the years when Washington couldn't get hits, score runs, make the defensive plays they had made all year or trust their bullpen.

For years, the Nationals invented new ways to fail on the postseason stage. But now, the shoe is on the other foot and they are the team playing as close to flawless as baseball can be played. They aren't making mistakes while the Cardinals are tumbling down a mountain towards elimination.

After winning Game 3 by the score of 8-1 on Monday night, the Nats hold a 3-0 advantage in the NLCS which means they only have to win one of the next four games and they are World Series-bound. They will have two opportunities at home with both Tuesday and Wednesday's games set for Washington. Wednesday's might not even be necessary.

This year is just different for these Nats and there was one moment during Monday's game that served as a specific reminder of that. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Ryan Zimmerman doubled home a run to put the Nationals up 6-0. That was the same lead they had in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS against these very same Cardinals. This time, they didn't blow it. They piled on and didn't look back.

Really, this enitre series has felt like another game in that infamous NLDS. Recall, if you can, Game 3 of that series when things shifted to Washington. There was a bizarre scheduling quirk that year where the Nats, despite having home field advantage, didn't play a home game until Game 3. They were on the road for the first two and split them before returning to D.C. for the next three games.

That Game 3 was the first home MLB postseason game for a Washington team in 79 years. Fans who wanted to be part of history packed the stadium in a sellout that required standing room only tickets.

But what happened next was pure, uncut dejection. The Nats were obliterated 8-0 to go down 2-1 in the series. All those fans showed up to the park and had absolutely nothing to cheer for the entire day. Not a single run, or even a juncture in the game where it seemed like a win was possible.

Now, think about how this series has gone. How many moments in these three games have Cardinals fans been able to cheer for? They were shut out in Game 1, they scored one run in Game 2 and one run in Game 3. The two plays they scored on were both at a time when the Cardinals were down multiple runs. And both times they only scored because of a Nationals defensive mistake.

This series so far has been a one-sided fight where the Cardinals are taking beatings over and over and rarely punching back. The Nationals know what that feels like and are happy to be on the other end.

These three wins have been business-like and, if you ask the players, there is one main reason for that.

"Our starting pitching, I think it just sets the tone for everything in the series. It lets our offensive guys [relax], it gives them a chance to take a deep breath and maybe work the count," reliever Sean Doolittle said.

"Like tonight, they were able to get something going the second time through the lineup. It lets them relax and it keeps the pressure on them. As bullpen guys, you see what they're doing to attack hitters. They're constantly ahead in counts, they're working quick, they're in a rhythm; you feed off that too as a bullpen guy. You want to get in there and do the exact same thing. They've put us in a really good spot in this series."

After Stephen Strasburg's seven-inning gem on Monday, Nationals starters have now thrown 21 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run in the NLCS. They have struck out 28 batters and issued only three walks.

It has been pitching and also defense. Though the Cardinals have technically capitalized on two defensive blunders - a Michael A. Taylor misjudged ball in Game 2 and a Juan Soto throwing error in Game 3 - the Nationals have otherwise played mistake-free baseball.

"Starting pitching and play good defense. If you do those two things in the playoffs, I think you're going to have decent success," outfielder Adam Eaton said.

"Our starting pitching has been unbelievable and we've played good defense," first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said.

"We're just trying to do the little things right, treat it as a normal game and play like we've played for the last few months. It's hard to do sometimes, but we've really tried as best we can to do it."

The Nationals' defense has also included some miraculous plays, the types that make Cardinals players and their fans throw their hands up in disbelief. Zimmerman had a diving grab in Game 1 in St. Louis and Anthony Rendon had a fantastic stop at third in Game 3 to rob Paul DeJong of a hit.

The Nats have become that team that frustrates opponents by acing the finer details of the game. It's an unusual role for them at this stage of the season.

But what else is new? These clearly aren't the Nationals old. They have bucked trends of team history all season by coming back in a pennant race, by making the playoffs as a Wild Card team, by winning a Wild Card game and then a do-or-die NLDS Game 5. They don't have Bryce Harper and their bullpen is bad on paper when in years past it was good on paper, just when it counted most.

Everything this year has been different. And that trend has continued with the casual nature of the three wins that now have them on the cusp of a World Series berth.

Unless the baseball gods are setting us all up for something extraordinary, there is no reason to believe they won't keep it rolling. These Nationals aren't recognizable to those who have watched them over the years, but it keeps working. Don't tell anyone. Just go with it.