WASHINGTON -- The groans among the 43,423 in attendance for Sunday’s Game 3 in the National League Division Series at Nationals Park slowly morphed into auspicious exclaims. A half inning after a bullpen implosion, it seemed, just for a moment, as if the Nationals were destined for another one of the signature come-from-behind moments they served up time and time again this year.
Here’s the scene: Staked to a 2-1 lead in relief, Patrick Corbin imploded to help the Dodgers surge to a seven-run sixth inning, all of which were scored with two outs. But Los Angeles was not to be outdone with a collapse of its own, when Joe Kelly took the mound to load the bases on two separate occasions with no outs after a wild pitch had already allowed a run to score.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts saw enough after Kelly walked Yan Gomes, opting to deploy lefty Julio Urías against Asdrúbal Cabrera. Washington’s clutch hitter did his job, lifting a sacrifice fly to right field to plate a run and cut the deficit for four.
Then there was Howie Kendrick. Situated at second base while Cabrera’s ball wafted above his head, the veteran infielder ran back to tag up. He proceeded towards third but hesitated to peek and see if the throw was going to third base. It was going home, but that little hesitation -- paired with David Freese cutting off the relay -- had Kendrick dead to rights between the bags.
Two outs; one man still on base. Rally killed.
“I should have trusted my instincts, to be honest with you,” Kendrick said.
“For me, if he would have went right away, he makes it,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “Once you stop, then that's it, you got to get back. He knew that. He's a veteran guy. It was frustrating.”
Michael A. Taylor popped out just three pitches later to end the inning, meaning five pitches from Urías were enough to escape total damage after Kelly recorded no outs on 22 pitches.
The groans that turned to cheers were back to boos from those clad in red, reminding the players already frustrated with the night’s progression that they had let the makings of a hallmark postseason moment dissolve into nothingness.
“It kind of helped them out of the inning there,” Kendrick said. “And sometimes, it’s those little things that kill rallies.”
While it’s impossible to tell just how much a rally Kendrick’s blunder killed, it certainly did little to change the complexion of Sunday’s loss -- one already filled with befuddlement while seeing the normally reliable Corbin scuffle out of the ’pen and waste a solid outing from Aníbal Sánchez.
Kendrick earned his place in the Nats' lineup primarily because of how his bat can play against Los Angeles’ lefty-heavy rotation. So far, Kendrick has gone 2-for-11 with an RBI and walk.
The desire for Kendrick’s bat has ultimately dictated how Martinez draws up his lineup, slotting him at first base -- which he’s learned how to play in an everyday role on the fly this year -- during both Games 1 and 3, and his natural position of second in Game 2. It was in Game 1 when Kendrick made a pair of costly errors at first base after being tagged for the same number in 401 fielding chances in the regular season.
Sunday wasn’t a mistake of the same demeanor. Though it was still a blunder from the usually steadfast Kendrick -- the same player that has earned lobbying from his clubhouse for Comeback Player of the Year Award honors after missing almost the entirety of 2018 with an Achilles injury.
“It’s tough, but things like that do happen,” Kendrick said. “But it’s important to try and not make those mistakes again. Some of those little things like that, they can change the game.”