Howie Kendrick’s 10th inning grand slam understandably got most of the attention after the Washington Nationals’ 7-3 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers, last night, but it was the back-to-back home runs by Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto in the eighth inning that started their comeback and set the Nats’ 36-year-old outfielder up for his extra-innings blast.
Rendon went down for a 1-0 fastball and sent it out to left, and Soto stepped in next and hit a first-pitch slider up and in out to right-center, both off Clayton Kershaw, tying things up at 3-3 two innings after the Nationals’ 3-4 hitters got them on the board with a double and RBI single, respectively, off of starter Walker Buehler after the Dodgers scored three runs on two homers off starter Stephen Strasburg in the first two innings of Game 5 of the NLDS.
What did Rendon go into the at bat against Kershaw in the eighth looking for from the left-hander?
“We just wanted to be aggressive,” Rendon told reporters after the win. “We knew that -- well I personally knew that he’s always going to be around the zone, he’s always going to be a strike thrower and we wanted to be aggressive and just try to put the barrel on it and we just happened to get him tonight.”
Rendon dismissed any suggestion that Kershaw is easier to face now than he was a few years back.
“Yeah, tell him that, see what he says,” Rendon responded.
“No, definitely not. Like you say, he’s been doing this for so long, he’s been great for so long, but I think we just maybe want to say we got lucky tonight.”
Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said their approach, “... just really was trying to get the ball up,” on Kershaw.
“He’s an unbelievable pitcher and we just need to be patient and just see the ball up in the strike zone.”
Martinez too dismissed any notion that Kershaw’s any less of a pitcher than he was in previous seasons.
“He’s still a great pitcher and very competitive,” the manager said. “His velo isn’t what it used to be, but he knows how to pitch and that’s why he’s so successful.”
Was there a particular point at which Rendon believed that the Nationals could actually do it, and beat the Dodgers to advance to the NLCS for the first time in the franchise’s history (2005-present).
“I think it had to be in the eighth inning, once we tied the ball game,” Rendon said.
“I’m not sure if it was the crowd or the energy in the dugout, whatever it might have been, but I tried to stay right here the whole time,” he said, indicating an even keel, “... you guys know, so I kind of just can see the energy get a little bit higher in our dugout and you could see the Dodgers and their morale and even the crowd, people started trickling out and so, man, we just tried to pounce on that and tried to take advantage of it.”
So, he was watching the crowd reaction in the eighth inning of what was suddenly a 3-3 game in Chavez Ravine.
“Oh, 100%,” Rendon said. “There’s not too many people that can experience moments like this where you have 40,000 people cheering against you.
“I’m looking in the crowd, I’m enjoying it.”
Soto said he started the believe the Nationals could actually do it when he saw Rendon hit his home run in the eighth.
“For me, it’s amazing, when I see him hit the homer I feel really good, I think he [made it close], their lead, and I just said, ‘We’re going. We’re going now.’”
With the game tied at 3-3 after nine, Adam Eaton walked to start the tenth, Rendon doubled to left, righty Joe Kelly walked Soto intentionally, and Kendrick stepped in, and hit a fastball to center field for the slam that ended up being the difference.
Kendrick was 0 for 4 with two Ks at that point in the game, and he’d struggled throughout the series, in the field and at the plate, but everyone with the Nationals was happy to see the veteran infielder get the big hit.
“Oh, man,” Rendon said. “Howie’s been doing this all year, so personally it was no surprise.
“He’s the epitome of a professional hitter. He’s what, he’s like 45 years old, and still doing this. But, man, I mean 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 and that man can hit. So he did what he needed to do.”
To get to the point they are now, with the first trip to the NLCS in franchise history and the opportunity to play for the NL pennant in a best-of-seven series with the St. Louis Cardinals.
“Not many people get to experience this or a moment like this,” Rendon said.
“So obviously there’s going to be nerves and there’s going to be some emotions that are wild, but that’s what’s fun about it, that’s what’s awesome. You got to try to just contain yourself and just realize that at the end it’s just a game.”