Going into the win-or-go-home Game 5 of the NLDS matchup with the Los Angeles Dodgers in Chavez Ravine, Washington Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez was asked what message he had for his team was as they prepared for a decisive battle.
“Yeah, man it’s just, hey, it’s another day,” he said.
“We have been through this since May 24th. We have been playing playoff games since May 24th. I mean, that’s the way we look at it.”
May 24th, of course, if you’re not familiar with this season’s narrative, is the day the Nationals started to turn things around after a 19-31 start put them in a big hole.
With a 74-38 mark the rest of the way, the Nationals became the ninth team in MLB history to be 12 games under .500 during the regular and still make it to the postseason.
Going into the NL Wild Card Game earlier this month, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo said that the struggle to turn things around and make it to October prepared them for the win-or-it’s-over pressure of postseason play.
“It’s a win-or-go-home game, and that’s been our mindset for about four and a half months,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies.
What did Martinez say to his players before Game 5 with the Dodgers?
“I said, look, I packed a lot of clothes in my suitcase, so I don’t want to pack for nothing, so let’s keep it going,” Martinez told reporters in LA.
“But they’re all loose, they’re ready, the music’s going to be playing before the game like they always do. But they’re getting prepared and getting ready to play a game.”
Dodgers’ skipper Dave Roberts was asked before the game if, as a 106-win division-winner, the pressure was on his club as opposed to the Nationals, who were, “kind of playing with house money as like a Wild Card team?” Did he buy that take?
“I don’t,” Roberts said. “I don’t. There’s not a guy in that clubhouse over there that doesn’t want to win this game as much as we do. So I think that pressure is kind of what you make of it. And right now the goal in both clubhouses is to win a baseball game, regardless of who is favored, who is not. It really doesn’t matter once that first pitch is thrown. We got to go out there and play a good baseball game, take good at-bats, catch the baseball, make good pitches, and I’ll take our chances at home.”
The Dodgers finished the regular season 59-22 at home in Dodger Stadium, and were 60-23 in 2019 after they split the first two games of the NLDS in LA last week. They took a 3-0 lead early, with two home runs off Stephen Strasburg, but the Nationals chipped away, with Juan Soto driving in a run with a single in the sixth before he and Anthony Rendon went back-to-back (Rendon first) with homers off Clayton Kershaw in the eighth, 3-3, and Howie Kendrick hit a grand slam off Joe Kelly in the tenth to make it 7-3 in extras.
What was Roberts’ message for his team, and for Dodgers fans, after their season ended with the Game 5 loss?
“It’s one of those things that you don’t — you can’t script,” Roberts said. “Made sure that the guys understood how proud I was, how they competed all year long, didn’t take a day off.
“You got to give credit to the Nationals, the way they played and came in here and won a series.
“Obviously very, very, disappointing is probably an understatement. But I think it’s just one of those things that we got beat and just disappointed for everyone.”
Martinez had a hard time containing his excitement at what he and his team accomplished in getting the organization to the NLCS for the first time, after their seasons ended in NLDS losses in the franchise’s four previous trips to the playoffs.
“I’m really excited, one, for the boys in that clubhouse that fought all year. As you all know, we were 19-31 at one point and turned this thing around. So I’ve said this all year long, that these guys — this group is resilient, they won’t quit until the last out, and they play hard every single day,” Martinez said.
“As far as this franchise, I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this franchise. For the fans who showed up through all those miserable days that we had early, hey, thank you, appreciate it. And, yeah, we’re playing for a National League championship. A lot of fun.”
“We’ve put together teams for years and years and years that were really talented, really good teams,” Rizzo told MASN’s FP Santangelo in the clubhouse after the Nats’ win.
“We were a strike away, a rules interpretation away, a bounce away from advancing before — just a special group of guys. We’ve been playing playoff-caliber baseball since May 24th, and I think that aided us in the way we developed as a playoff-tested team, in an atmosphere like this, in a ballpark like this with this crowd, against those type of pitchers, it aided us in getting where we’re at today.”