They are just the ninth team in MLB history to come from 12 games under .500 (where they were after they fell to 19-31 on May 23rd) to make it to the postseason. Their 93 wins on the season, “were the most for a team that was 12 games under .500 at any point since the 1914 Boston Braves finished 94-59 after being 28-40.” So the confidence that the Washington Nationals had going into Game 4 of the Championship Series last night, after they’d outlasted the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Wild Card Game, and taken out the 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, before winning the first three in the NLCS with the St. Louis Cardinals, felt earned.
“You know, it’s huge,” Davey Martinez said of his team’s confidence, “but it didn’t just start like miraculously. This has been something that’s been building since the end of May. I mean, we had our backs against the wall, and they stuck with it, and they believed in each other, and they believed that they were going to bounce back and this thing was going to turn around.
“I’ve said it before, we’ve been playing playoff games since then. We had to play really good to come back and do the things we’ve done, and now, in [October], they believed that they can do this, and they’re going out there, and they’re not taking anything for granted, and they’re playing really hard, and they’re playing to win one game every day.
“The big message, I say it every day, is to go 1-0 every day, and they believe that.”
His team was on message after the win in Game 3 gave them a commanding 3-0 lead over the Cards in the National League Championship Series.
When a reporter noted on Monday night that the Nationals had just won their 15th in the last 17 games going back to the last regular season homestand, Howie Kendrick admitted it was news to him.
“You know what, I don’t -- I haven’t even realized that, to be honest with you. I think the biggest thing is that just means we’re playing really good baseball,” Kendrick said.
“Our pitching staff has been doing a really good job for us. That’s pretty obvious with what these guys have been doing. Each guy, one guy after the next, and with what we’ve been doing with the bats. It’s been fun. We just try to play good baseball every day. Whatever’s going to happen is going to happen.
“So you just try to let the game come to you, and we just hopefully try not to do too much.”
Stephen Strasburg was asked, after throwing seven strong in the Game 3 win, if he and his teammates allowed themselves to think about the fact that they were one win away from a trip to the World Series.
“You guys can,” he told reporters, “but right now, I think it’s been just such an amazing year, and I think it’s really been great just because of where we’ve had to come from. We’ve got such a great group of guys, and it’s fun. It’s fun being around the guys and going out there and competing together. I think you ask anybody in there, we just want to stay together and keep playing.”
“Honestly, and I mean this sincerely,” Martinez added when asked if he allowed himself to think ahead after stressing his “1-0 every day” mantra all season.
“I have not thought about it yet. I’m worried about just getting through tomorrow, go 1-0 tomorrow, and we’ll see what happens then.”
Once they’d locked up a spot in the World Series with a 7-4 win over the Cardinals in Game 4, Kendrick talked about the focus they played with all season, and echoed the mantra that the Nationals have lived by the whole way.
“Our mentality was still the same,” Kendrick said, after he was named the NLCS MVP. “Even though we were losing, nobody really panicked. I don’t think there was a sense of panic. Even Davey, at the time, he was like, man, we just -- the guys that matter, all of the opinions that matter, they’re in this room, and we just looked at it like that. Hey, it’s up to us to turn it around. We didn’t blame anybody. We didn’t point the finger at any one person. It was us as a team.
“Guys started grinding. We started getting a little bit of luck here and there, but at the same time, guys put in the work, and we started having success. I think that’s, like he said, that’s the epitome of our team. Guys just go out and try to work our way out of it, man. Guys just put their head down and got after it.”
“It’s simple,” Ryan Zimmerman added. “You could either quit, or you could play. You sign up to play 162 games. I played some where you lose a ton of games, and I played those games just as hard as I play these games now. That’s what I’ve always been taught. It doesn’t matter who you are or how much money you make or what team you’re on, you sign up to play 162 games. Whether you’re 31-19 or 19-31, you’ve still got to play the rest of the season out.
“So we had a choice, we could either basically roll over and quit or come in, like we said, each day and try and win that game that day. We chose the second one.”
“So we play for that day,” Kendrick continued, “... that moment, that time, and I think that’s what really matters is we’ve got to fight for just that one game because, at the end of the day, there’s no guarantee of tomorrow. All you’re guaranteed is this day. So we’ve got to go out and just live it like that and play like that.”
“I’m just happy to be a part of it,” Martinez told reporters.
“Like I said, I’m just a small piece to the puzzle. I really am. Ownership, front office, [GM Mike Rizzo], players, clubhouse, trainers -- it means a lot to all of us, and I thank them all for sticking through this throughout the whole year. I mean, it took a village to get us to where we’re at right now.
“So I’m really proud of everybody in this organization.”