Howie Kendrick got all the glory, the on-field celebration, and Gatorade bath. Kendrick capped off his 2 for 4 game against the San Francisco Giants on Sunday with a walk-off grand slam in extra innings. He’s now 15 for 40 (.375/.405/.600) over 13 games and 42 plate appearances for the Washington Nationals, who acquired the 34-year-old veteran from the Philadelphia Phillies in a pre-deadline deal last month.
“We knew he was going to be big when we first got him,” Dusty Baker said when asked about Kendrick’s contributions after the win.
“I knew how he was on the other of the field,” Baker explained.
“You really don’t want to face him because he’s strong enough to hit the ball out, but he has great bat control to hit the ball to right field at any time. And he’s great with two outs, he has a great attitude, the guys on the team love him and that’s what I was told many, many years ago, and I know when they traded him from the Angels, Mike Scioscia wasn’t too happy about it because he was one of their team leaders, one of their real team leaders, so I’m just glad we have him, and he’s got a smile on his face all the time, and he’s been a great pleasure and joy to have on this team.”
Kendrick came through against Giants’ reliever Albert Suarez, hitting a meaty 2-2 pitch out to left-center for the game-ender, but as Baker noted, it was Daniel Murphy whose leadoff single and great read on a Ryan Zimmerman pop to center actually created the opportunity that Kendrick cashed in.
Murphy lined a single to center, then took off on Zimmerman’s broken-bat pop, flying around second base before it dropped into the outfield grass for a hit. With runners on first and third and no one out, Suarez walked Anthony Rendon intentionally to load the bases in front of Kendrick.
“That was an outstanding job of baserunning by Daniel Murphy,” Baker said. “That was a perfect, perfect read, and that was textbook, anybody that teaches or studies baserunning, that was primo, I mean, that set up the fact that they had to walk the bases loaded to pitch to Howie.”
Murphy’s hit was just his third in the last six games (3 for 15, .200/.294/.400) as he’s missed some time with a hip issue.
Baker was asked if, with Bryce Harper now on the DL, Jayson Werth still working his way back, and Trea Turner not yet ready to return, he was going to have to lean on Murphy and Zimmerman (who’s gone 9 for 30, .346/.433/.769 over seven games on the current homestand after struggling over the last two months).
“No, you can’t lean on them any more than we’ve leaned on them already,” Baker said.
“Because if you lean on them, what happens if you’re leaning on them too hard and they break down. So I have to continue to give them rest and have the other guys pick it up. They’ve been carrying most of the weight, most of the year, and I’m not going to put any more weight on them. I was hoping we could take some weight off of them.
“That’s what good teams do. They take weight off each other. One guy is hot, we didn’t play Murphy for a couple days, he was ailing some, and then Rendon was sick for about, I don’t know, ten or twelve days, and so these guys, they don’t complain or alibi, to a man, they’ll play, it’s kind of up to me to recognize the signs and to take the bat or the ball away from them. These are the kind of guys that you want on your team, and they play for each other.”
One positive, roster-wise, from a weekend that saw Harper go down with an injury that at first looked a lot worse than it ended up being, was that Nats’ center fielder Michael A. Taylor returned from DL as Harper went on it, giving Baker another outfield option.
Taylor, who came on late in the Nats’ loss in the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader, went 1 for 4 with two Ks on Sunday, in his first major league action since early July.
“He looked a little bit behind, but that’s to be expected,” Baker said.
“I’m glad he’s back, and he’s going to better and better and better the more at bats he gets and the better his timing gets. The more at bats he gets his timing is going to be better. I’m just glad to have Michael back, especially it’s been a tough year injury-wise.
“We lost Harp and then we lost [Brian Goodwin] in the first game. It seems like one guy comes and another guy does down, but at least we have guys to replace them.”
In the end, Baker said, he was just happy to get the win on Sunday night before a day off yesterday on Monday so his players could get some much-needed rest.
“Boy, that was a long day,” Baker told reporters, “and it would really have been long had we lost a doubleheader but, boy, that was a great ending.”