A few weeks before the Nationals clinched their Wild Card berth, Jack McKeon, a special advisor to Washington general manager Mike Rizzo, was talking to a friend about the team and how he saw similarities between it and the 2003 Marlins, who McKeon guided to a World Series title.
Like the 2019 Nationals, that year’s Marlins got off to a slow start. The Marlins were 16-22 before they dismissed manager Jeff Torborg and replaced him with McKeon, whose presence made a difference. He was a no-nonsense manager, who told his team, “Fun is winning and winning is fun.”
The Marlins had fun all right, going 75-49 the rest of the season before upsetting the Giants, Cubs and Yankees in the postseason to win the championship.
“It took us two or three weeks for [the Marlins] to get going,” said the 88-year-old McKeon. “All of a sudden, we got going. We brought up Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis to give us the spark like Victor Robles and Juan Soto did for the Nationals. We had a bunch of gamers. We had a bunch of professionals who were dedicated. The Nationals had the same type of players we had. They have unselfish guys that were willing to do the little things and have fun. That’s the big thing.”
Unlike the Marlins, the Nationals didn’t dismiss their manager, Dave Martinez, after the team got off to a 19-31 start this season. But once their regulars -- Trea Turner, Howie Kendrick and Anthony Rendon -- came back from injuries the Nationals went on a memorable run, going 74-38 the rest of the regular season.
Washington went on to beat the Brewers, Dodgers and Cardinals in the postseason before advancing to the World Series against the Astros. Game 1 is Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
“They got healthy. That was the big plus,” McKeon said. “You have Kendrick back. He’s that little spark. The starting pitching has always been strong. The young guys kept the team going.”
McKeon often visited Martinez during the season and is happy Martinez wasn’t relieved of his duties. McKeon credits Rizzo for knowing the talent he was working with, and that Martinez was the right person to lead them to the World Series.
“Davey did a great job. Although he was under pressure, he kept the clubhouse calm -- one game at a time,” McKeon said. “I spent a lot of time talking to him. He was always positive. He never got panicky. He was strong and I’m so happy for him.”
McKeon plans to go to the World Series and thinks the Nationals' starting pitching will carry them to their first World Series championship.
“I was [in Washington] for the Wild Card Game [against the Brewers] and we won it,” McKeon said. “I said, ‘You know, if we beat the Dodgers, [we’ll] go all the way. Nobody expected them to sweep the Cardinals in four games.
“It’s going to be one hell of a pitching series against the Astros. Both clubs have good pitching. We might have a little bit more offense. I don’t know.”