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Redemption: Howie becomes Nats' NLDS hero

After 3 errors in series, veteran's slam sends Washington to NLCS
@mi_guardado
October 11, 2019

LOS ANGELES -- Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo spoke for everyone when he crashed Howie Kendrick's postgame scrum in the raucous visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium, dousing the man of the hour with a bottle of champagne.

LOS ANGELES -- Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo spoke for everyone when he crashed Howie Kendrick's postgame scrum in the raucous visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium, dousing the man of the hour with a bottle of champagne.

“Are you kidding me, Howie?!” Rizzo yelled. “Are you kidding me?!”

Kendrick atoned for a tough defensive series by delivering the biggest hit of the Nationals' season, crushing a tie-breaking grand slam off Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly in the 10th inning to lift Washington to a 7-3 win in the decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series on Wednesday night.

NLCS presented by GEICO, Game 1: Tonight, 8 p.m. ET on TBS

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3 LAD 6, WSH 0 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 4 WSH 4, LAD 2 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 6 LAD 10, WSH 4 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 7 WSH 6, LAD 1 Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 9 WSH 7, LAD 3 Watch

Kendrick’s heroics allowed the Nationals to exorcise their past October heartbreaks and advance to the NL Championship Series for the first time in franchise history. They’ll face the Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLCS on Friday night in St. Louis. Despite Washington winning more regular-season games, the Cardinals have home-field advantage in the best-of-seven series by virtue of having won their division, while the Nationals got into the postseason as a Wild Card team.

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“Words can’t really describe it,” Kendrick said. “It’s probably the best moment of my career.

“As a team, you’ve got to pick each other up. They picked me up early in the game and in the days before, but it’s good to return the favor.”

For the bulk of this series, Kendrick had largely distinguished himself with his defensive miscues in the infield. The 35-year-old veteran committed two errors in Washington’s 6-0 loss in Game 1, and he added a third Wednesday after misplaying a grounder off the bat of Cody Bellinger in the third inning.

But manager Dave Martinez said he never considered sitting Kendrick, as he wanted to keep the veteran's bat in the lineup, despite his questionable fielding. Kendrick was hitless with two strikeouts in his first four at-bats, but he rewarded Martinez’s faith when it mattered most.

After Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto hammered back-to-back home runs in the eighth to tie the game at 3 and force extra innings, the Nationals staged their decisive rally against Kelly, who returned to the mound in the 10th to begin his second inning.

Kelly quickly fell into a jam, as Adam Eaton drew a leadoff walk and Rendon doubled to put runners on second and third. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts then ordered an intentional walk of Soto to load the bases with no outs for Kendrick.

“You want to go up and try to make them pay,” Kendrick said. “I think everyone in this room takes that with a chip on their shoulder, and they’re going to try to do damage.”

Kendrick answered with the knockout blow, crushing an 0-1 fastball from Kelly to straightaway center field for a grand slam that gave the Nationals their first lead of the night, stunning the sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium.

“I was looking for a fastball,” Kendrick said. “I got it, and I didn’t miss it. He had been throwing a lot of breaking balls, but for some reason, I had a gut feeling that I should just stick with the fastball. I just felt like it was a good pitch to sit on. I’m good at hitting fastballs, so why not look for one?”

It was the second extra-inning grand slam in postseason history, after Nelson Cruz's walk-off slam in Game 2 of the 2011 American League Championship Series.

The big hit added another indelible moment to what has already been a remarkable comeback season for Kendrick, who missed most of the 2018 campaign with an Achilles injury but returned to bat .344 with a .966 OPS and 17 home runs during the '19 regular season.

“Howie's been doing this all year, so personally, it was no surprise,” Rendon said. “He's the epitome of a professional hitter. He's like 45 years old and still doing this. We're all going to make mistakes. We're all going to make errors. We're human. We're not perfect people. That's a part of the game. He's not going to give up, he's just going to continue to keep on trucking. That man can hit. So he did what he needed to do.”

Maria Guardado covers the Giants for MLB.com. She previously covered the Angels from 2017-18. Follow her on Twitter.