In the moment, if you had asked 100 Washington Nationals fans who they would want up with the bases loaded and nobody out in the top of the 10th inning, you would likely be able to count the number of people to respond with “Howie Kendrick” on one hand.
Until then, Kendrick had started every postseason game going 4-for-19 in the NLDS and 5-for-22 overall in the postseason, with three errors, and a big baserunning gaffe in Game 3.
It wouldn’t have been a stretch to imagine manager Dave Martinez pinch-hitting with Gerardo Parra at that point to have a lefty face right-hander Joe Kelly in such a huge spot.
“What I know from Howie is he’s going to give me everything he has,” Martinez said after Kendrick hit a grand slam off Kelly to put the Nationals up 7-3 in the tenth inning last night.
“It may not always be good, but at the end of the day I know what I’m going to get.”
Martinez stuck with the guy who has produced all year with a season-defining at-bat looming.
“I was looking to get something to drive,” Kendrick explained to reporters. “He threw me a breaking ball the first pitch, he had been throwing a lot of breaking balls, and for some reason I had a gut feeling to say, ‘Hey, just stay with the fastball.’
“Even on the first pitch, I was looking for a fastball, but happened to recognize the breaking ball, so sometimes with breaking balls you just want to recognize them and just hit them.”
The plan worked like a treat. Kendrick got the fastball and his bat cracked in emphatic fashion.
The crackling sound allowed Nationals fans to remove the hands that were covering their faces and gaze in awe. A sac fly? Good work. A grand slam? Sheer delirium ensued.
“I couldn’t be more proud of him just staying in the moment,” Martinez explained. “Things happen in this game, but we worked really hard at keeping him healthy all year to get him here today. I’m so proud of him. I mean, huge, huge moment for him and for this team.”
Identical to the Wild Card Game eight days prior, everything happened at a rapid pace.
Quick outs followed the grand slam and suddenly, Sean Doolittle was closing out the game while Michael A. Taylor made a shoestring grab to finish off the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Just like that, Kendrick was doing interviews on the sidelines before his teammates chanted his name, asking the man of the moment to join them in the mob on the mound.
“Howie’s been doing this all year so personally it was no surprise,” Anthony Rendon said after the game. “He’s the epitome of a professional hitter. He’s what, he’s like 45 years old and still doing this.”
The game and the moment, which are both now by far the biggest in franchise history, epitomized the team’s “stay in the fight” motto.
“We never get down as a team,” Kendrick said after the game, “especially if we’ve got a lot of game left to play, so we always try to stay in it, keep going, because we know big things can happen at any time.”
His teammates knew he was due to produce. They knew the miscues that occurred earlier in the series meant nothing compared to the body of work he put forward in the regular season.
“We’re all going to make mistakes,” Rendon said. “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 and that man can hit. So he did what he needed to do.”
Kendrick was seeking to right his wrongs.
He couldn’t hide from the struggles he had endured in the series and waited for that one chance to make everyone forget about the previous issues.
“I was hoping for any moment,” Kendrick said. “Being able to be in that situation and to have the opportunity and to actually come through in that situation, that means a lot, and like I was telling guys early, that’s probably the best moment of my career, summed up in that one at-bat.”
Pictures of the self-dubbed best moment of his career are going to be plastered on newspapers everywhere. Video of the moment sneakily played repeatedly in offices of Nationals fans around the world. It was truly unforgettable.
Though Nationals fans will be hoping for many more memorable postseason moments in the coming days and weeks, Kendrick’s redemption in extra innings is going to leave hairs standing on the back of necks for a long time.