“If you look at how we got here, you can look back, every guy has done something,” Davey Martinez told reporters on Friday afternoon, as the National League champion Washington Nationals worked out in preparation for their trip to the 2019 World Series.
“I started collecting baseballs every game we won. I picked a player of the game, which was tough to do — some balls have 2-3 players of the game, and I put them up on the wall, and I want them to understand that it takes a whole team to win, not just one individual, so every ball has somebody different on there each and every game, and we collected all these balls, and every now and then I see guys just going in there, staring at each ball, and dates, and what we’ve done and how we did it, and I can tell that they really appreciate it. And I can tell that they really — because you hear them say, ‘Man, oh, man, I remember [Stephen] Strasburg was dealing this day,’ and, ‘[Gerardo] Parra, grand slam this day in LA,’ and they all talk about it and they remember it, and it’s pretty cool to hear them call each other’s name out, knowing that they all participated at some point.”
“First time I’ve done it,” he added. “I just felt like doing it. I thought why not, and I started it right from Game 1.”
Mike Rizzo too talked about how this is all, obviously, a team effort, with the Nats’ General Manager pointing to the way they’ve all worked together selflessly to help each other out.
“Obviously the veteran players have been through these things before,” Rizzo said.
“But the veterans that we have, they can play a little bit, and that’s the most important thing. But they bring a wealth of experience. They bring a lot of energy, and they’re really giving of their information and they have mentored our young players. You go with guys like Howie Kendrick and Aníbal Sánchez, and Fernando Rodney, they’ve given a lot of information and really mentored the young players on our roster.”
Rizzo was asked if the sort of mentor/mentee relationship was unique or common among the other teams he’s assembled or been a part of over the years?
“I think a lot of players like to give back to the game,” he said. “But this group has been very, very generous with their time and their information, and I think — I personally think it’s been very helpful to the young players.”
“I look at them and they’re not old to me,” Martinez said of the veterans like Kendrick (36), and Ryan Zimmerman (35), who’ve played big roles in the regular season and postseason success.
“They’re playing like I’ve seen them play when they’re 27-28 years old,” Martinez added. “So kudos to them. I’ve said this all along, one of my biggest jobs this year was to keep guys healthy. I know Zim was hurt for a while, but we got him back at the right time. Keeping Howie healthy, keeping guys on the field, I know earlier it was tough, but these older veteran guys, it’s just keep them healthy and keep them ready for this opportunity, and they all have stepped up to the plate, they’ve all performed really well, and they’ve all helped us get to this point.”
In order to get to this point, the Nationals had to fight their way back from a 19-31 start to go 74-38 from May 24th on, before they beat the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Wild Card Game, the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, and the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS to earn a spot in the World Series.
What stands out about this team for their manager?
“For me it’s the bond that they built amongst themselves,” Martinez said. “It’s unbelievable.
“I mean, they play for each other. There’s no selfishness, I mean these guys really believe in each other and they play for each other, and they’re constantly together, and I love that.”
A team full of players that actually likes each other is nice, of course, and the second-year skipper said they’ve grown together too, and decided to play for each other when people around the baseball world had written them off.
“The biggest thing is — everybody talks about chemistry,” Martinez said. “But they play for each other. When one guy doesn’t do the job, the next guy picks them up, when one guy strikes out, you watch them go down the line, they pat each other on the back, ‘Hey, we got you. Don’t worry.’ But after the games they all huddle up. They’re all jumping around when we win, and it’s a huge celebration. You don’t see that often, and they’re all, every one of those guys, they’re always involved, which is really cool.”
As well as they’ve played, the Nationals are the underdogs going into the matchup with the Houston Astros, but the American League champions are heading into the Fall Classic with a chip on their shoulders and something to prove.
“We play with an edge,” manager A.J. Hinch said after the Astros’ Game 6 win over the New York Yankees.
“I think even going into this series I think we won the most games in baseball, and it’s nice to feel like you’ve still got to push a little bit for the credit this group deserves.”
“And I think it’s winning drives this team,” Hinch added. “It’s really all that drives us and each other and the players. The players do an unbelievable job of pushing one another.
“So you’ve got a lot of guys in there that deserve the credit for putting the work in, but more importantly, deserve the credit for the performance.
“And again, I’m not going to play that everybody doubts us all the time, but everybody expects things to -- you’re not going to repeat.
“We got to the ALCS Game 5 last year, and a couple of wins away from the World Series, and that was deemed a disappointment. And that pisses off Major League players. And so we came back this year and got back to the World Series and we’re going to try to tack on to their resumes a lot of these guys.”