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'It's Howie time': No moment too big for Kendrick

@juanctoribio
October 31, 2019

HOUSTON -- When he hit it, Howie Kendrick knew that he had made solid contact. He got a 90-mph cutter from Astros reliever Will Harris that he knew he could drive the other way, and that’s exactly what he did. Now the only question was, would it stay fair?

HOUSTON -- When he hit it, Howie Kendrick knew that he had made solid contact. He got a 90-mph cutter from Astros reliever Will Harris that he knew he could drive the other way, and that’s exactly what he did. Now the only question was, would it stay fair?

Shop now: Own Nationals World Series champs gear

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 22 WSH 5, HOU 4 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 23 WSH 12, HOU 3 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 25 HOU 4, WSH 1 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 26 HOU 8, WSH 1 Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 27 HOU 7, WSH 1 Watch
Gm 6 Oct. 29 WSH 7, HOU 2 Watch
Gm 7 Oct. 30 WSH 6, HOU 2 Watch

For a couple of seconds, Minute Maid Park went into a state of suspense. The sold-out crowd held its breath as the ball hung in the air. But once it clanged off the sponsored Chick-fil-A foul pole down the right-field line, the only noise in the stadium was coming from inside an ecstatic Nationals dugout.

“I didn’t know right away, but I was just like, ‘Stay fair, stay fair,’” Kendrick said. “I told these guys that I love Chick-fil-A a lot, and I’m glad it worked out.”

With the two-run home run, Kendrick had just given the Nationals a one-run lead in the seventh inning in Game 7 of the World Series. The home run helped open the floodgates for the Nats, who scored three more runs en route to a 6-2 win over the Astros on Wednesday in Game 7, securing the first World Series title in franchise history.

As he rounded the bases, Kendrick celebrated. Once he crossed the plate, he made it down the dugout steps and was greeted with high fives from the rest of his teammates. Kendrick then danced for a couple of seconds before finishing off the celebration by driving an imaginary car with Adam Eaton.

“With that home run, we took the lead,” Kendrick smiled. “So I was excited.”

Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki said that Kendrick’s home run didn’t come as a surprise to him, considering Kendrick was still upset about a previous at-bat against Harris, when he struck out to end the sixth inning of Game 4 with runners at second and third.

“When they took [Zack] Greinke out, I said, 'It’s Howie time right here,'” Suzuki said. “This guy punched out Howie at home, screamed and stared in our dugout and Howie never forgot that. You couldn’t have scripted it any better.”

Kendrick just seems to have a knack for the big moment. This improbable Nats run picked up speed with Kendrick and his go-ahead grand slam in the 10th inning of Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the top-seeded Dodgers.

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It was a moment that pushed the Nationals over the hump and ignited their belief that they could win a World Series title. So it was only fitting that Kendrick played the hero role again as the Nats’ run culminated in a championship.

Kendrick is the first player with multiple go-ahead home runs in the seventh inning or later in winner-take-all games in a single postseason.

“Howie is one hell of a player,” said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo. “He’s one of the most professional hitters I’ve ever been around. He’s a key component to our leadership structure here. He can still roll the pole, man. He can hit.”

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It was a long journey for Kendrick to get to this point. After missing 122 games last season with a ruptured right Achilles tendon, there was doubt that Kendrick would even return to a Major League field. And if he did return, just how productive could the 36-year-old be?

But Kendrick continued to believe that he would make it back, and he entered Spring Training in good shape, which created some excitement for Dave Martinez and the Nationals. He then quickly established himself as one of the most consistent players in the Nats’ lineup, hitting .325 over the first three months of the season.

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“It’s a testament to how hard he worked,” Martinez said. “Howie is a true professional. You see him on the field and what he does. But what he does in that clubhouse with those guys is unbelievable. And you can’t replace that. He’s been the heart and soul of this team.”

Just a year after his career was in doubt, Kendrick stood in the Nationals’ clubhouse as a champion. He was getting doused with beer by his teammates as he fielded questions from reporters. The smile on Kendrick's face was pure as he put his season into perspective.

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“I feel like everybody was rooting for [the Astros] and we were kind of the underdog in this series,” Kendrick said. “But it goes to show that you can’t ever count anybody out.”

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.