Suzuki: 'I've waited 13 seasons for this moment'
With game tied in 7th, 36-year-old homers to jump-start 6-run frame
HOUSTON -- Catchers always say their first obligation is to the pitching staff. They spend their time poring over scouting reports, attending pitchers meetings and catering to the wills of a pitching staff. And then, when all that is done, they find time to focus on their own hitting ability.
But even knowing this as a veteran catcher, there were nights when Kurt Suzuki's struggles at the plate this postseason weighed on him. Entering Wednesday, he had managed just one hit all month, bounced into three double plays and struck out nine times in 23 at-bats. Suzuki had played 13 seasons in the Majors waiting for his chance to play in the World Series for the first time, and he felt like he was letting his team down.
"I just remind him to look at how far you've come," his wife, Renee, said. "There's not much that I can say technique-wise, but I believe in him."
When Suzuki finally broke through in Game 2 on Wednesday night, it opened up the floodgates to one of the wildest innings in Nationals playoff history. Facing Justin Verlander in a tie game to begin the top of the seventh inning, Suzuki launched a 1-0 fastball into left field for a leadoff home run, sparking a six-run rally that led to an emphatic 12-3 Nats victory and a commanding 2-0 lead in the World Series.
Suzuki collected two hits, surpassing his hit total for the entire postseason, notched his first career postseason home run and became the first Hawaiian-born player to homer in the World Series.
"I can't remember the last time I barreled a ball up like that," Suzuki said. "It felt great. It felt like months ago. Probably was months ago. It felt great."
At his postgame press conference, Suzuki answered questions with his two young sons on his lap -- Kai, 5, who was wearing his father's jersey, and Eli, 3, who likes to dance along to "Baby Shark." His 8-year old daughter, Malia stayed back with Renee. It was that group, along with his friend Joe Turgeon, a member of Cal State Fullerton's College World Series team in 2004, that greeted Suzuki outside the visitors' clubhouse in the moments after Game 2.
The Suzukis met in college, where Renee was a volleyball player and Kurt a walk-on to the baseball team.
"From that point, he's always had to really prove himself," Renee said. "And I still feel like today he still has to prove himself. He has that mentality, going through the process and just the ups and downs. He just has such a strong mindset of accomplishing what he sets his mind to. I've been very honored to witness this journey, because it has been a journey."
The journey nearly ended a few seasons ago, when Suzuki contemplated retirement before the 2017 season. He was 33 years old, already had caught 10 seasons in the big leagues and, with three young kids at home, considered hanging it up. But he and Renee discussed it and decided he should play at least one more season.
Three years later, Suzuki, who turned 36 earlier this month, has come up with some of the biggest hits of this Nationals season.
"I had a feeling he might hit a home run here," Nats third baseman Anthony Rendon said. "He's been doing that all year for us, coming up clutch and having big hits like that. We talk about how he came into the season, going to be platooning and not playing too often. Like he said, he's 36 years old, he's had a lot more ABs than anticipated and it's good. He's been continuing to help us win ballgames."
This postseason has been a struggle, however, even though the Nationals are halfway to the team's first World Series championship in franchise history. In addition to his woes at the plate, opponents have been running wild on Suzuki, who missed time in September with right elbow inflammation, going 5-for-5 on stolen-base attempts this month, following up his struggles in the regular season, when he threw out just 5 of 50 would-be basestealers.
So after José Altuve doubled in the first inning, Suzuki knew what was coming next and he delivered a perfect strike to Rendon at third base to nab Altuve.
"You know, I don't really get surprised when guys try to run on me," Suzuki said. "Thirty-six years old, I'm getting old now. I know they like to run. They like to steal third. They like to put the pressure on the defense."
When Alex Bregman homered two batters later with a man on -- instead of two, thanks to Suzuki -- it only tied the game at 2, rather than give the Astros an early 3-2 lead. The throw to nail Altuve set the tone for the rest of Suzuki's night. He collected a single in the second inning, put on a clinic blocking balls behind the plate to help Stephen Strasburg navigate through another brilliant postseason start and then delivered with the biggest hit of all in the seventh.
"It feels great," Suzuki said. "I've waited 13 seasons for this moment to be able to play in the World Series. I kind of joked with a lot of the guys, Anthony in the training room, 'Now I've got energy now.' This is the last series of the season now, no matter what. We're playing for it now. If you can't get up for these games, I think you're in the wrong sport, you should retire or something, because this is it."