WASHINGTON -- In the hours before Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, Mark Lerner, the Nationals’ managing principal owner, stood on the field and marveled at the reality of it all. The Nationals began the day one game away from clinching the National League pennant, something he never would have believed after the season’s first 50 games.
“Obviously I wasn’t too happy,” he said. “Nobody was. 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.”
Lerner made his first public comments to reporters this season with his team on the cusp of its first World Series appearance, addressing topics ranging from Anthony Rendon’s free agency (they want to keep him), Dave Martinez’s job status (never in doubt) and what this playoff run could mean for D.C. and the franchise.
Lerner: Nats '110 percent' want to keep Rendon
Looming over this postseason run for the Nationals is the reality that it could be the swan song for the team’s best position player, Anthony Rendon, who is set to become a free agent next month. The Nationals have repeatedly expressed their desire to sign Rendon to a long-term contract extension and Lerner echoed those comments Tuesday.
“We certainly want to keep him, that's 110 percent,” Lerner said. “It's really in Tony's and his family's hands at this point. They have to decide what they want to do.”
The Nationals have had a few meetings over the course of the regular season with Rendon or his agent, Scott Boras, to discuss a potential contract extension, and the Washington Post reported earlier this month the Nats made Rendon an offer at the start of September. While Rendon has expressed a willingness to listen, he has also acknowledged a desire to test free agency now that he is so close.
“He's earned that right as a free agent,” Lerner said. “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.”
Martinez’s job was never in jeopardy
Even though Lerner admitted he never saw this sort of turnaround coming, when the Nationals fell to 19-31 after May 23, he also expressed full confidence in manager Dave Martinez, whose job security seemed tenuous at the time.
“It never crossed my mind to dismiss Davey, no matter all the pressure that was put on us,” he 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.”
Playoff run carries meaning for D.C.
Tuesday was the 94th birthday for Ted Lerner, the team’s founding principal owner. Mark Lerner, Ted's son, traveled to St. Louis for the first two games of the NLCS, his first road games in two years after he needed to have his left leg amputated because of cancer. The Lerner family took control of the Nationals in 2006, but it still feels like yesterday for the family, and Mark Lerner can anticipate what this could mean for the D.C.
“People always say, if you make it to the World Series, it really helps in many ways,” Lerner said. “I think we're well-established even if this didn't happen, but it can't hurt. We have a great fan base. We worked hard at it. We started and a lot of our fans were 8 and 9 years old, and now they have their own families. We've built the fan base the right way and we're very proud of that.”