Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo talked, after their win in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, about the role his second-year manager played in getting the team where they’d been trying to go after years of frustrating, early postseason exits.
“He’s the Manager of the Year,” Rizzo said of Davey Martinez. “He willed us here. He got us here, and it was a labor of love for both of us, and we’re a pretty good team.”
In his second year as a manager at any level of the game, and after a disappointing 82-80 start to his time in D.C. in 2018, and a rough first 50 games this past season in which they were 19-31, Martinez held things together and helped the Nationals turn thing around once they got healthy, with wins in 74 of their final 112 regular season games, and 12 of 17 in the postseason.
“They were shoveling dirt on him in May, now he’s the World Champ. Congrats, Davey,” Rizzo said at the Nationals’ World Series championship parade in the nation’s capital.
It wasn’t just the General Manager who hired him, of course.
A number of Nationals talked over the course of the postseason about the work Martinez did to keep things on track when it looked like they were going off the rails.
Max Scherzer was asked about his manager’s “1-0 every day” mantra, and how the players took it.
“1-0, I think goes back, I think that’s everybody,” Scherzer explained. “It’s something that he lives and dies by.”
“But Davey and our coaching staff, I think they all deserve so much credit,” the three-time Cy Young award-winner told reporters late in October.
“And so with Davey spearheading this and understanding -- pushing all the right buttons and finding ways to get creative and being a real good communicator with everything to be able to handle the pitching staff, the hitters, the bullpen, and being in constant communication with them.
“So for me, my relationship with him is really unique in the fact that -- I won’t say I have a lot of say, but that he listens to different things that I bring to him and different ideas of how I want to almost kind of manage myself so that when we get in different situations in tight ball games that he’s not shocked by whatever decision that we both make.”
Patrick Corbin, in the first year of the 6-year/$140M deal he signed with the Nationals last winter, talked about Martinez’s consistency throughout the entire season.
“I feel like he’s been the same guy for us all year. A leader for us. Somebody who really has trust in his players. And we truly believe that,” Corbin said during the World Series.
“Beginning of the season when things weren’t going right, he didn’t panic, he didn’t do anything differently.
“We just continued to try to get better every day. And pretty much the same thing now. I feel like everyone is relaxed and even at this highest level.”
What exactly did Martinez do to keep everyone from panicking, or turning on one another, or any of the many other ways things can go wrong when they’re not going right?
“He’s just kind of himself, really,” Corbin explained. “Every day is the same. And that’s how I think we all treat it here, we try to, at least.
“He doesn’t panic. He doesn’t make us do more or less. He just tries to put us in the best position to do our job well.”
Howie Kendrick, who was named the NLCS MVP near the end of a bounce-back season in D.C., after he suffered a torn Achilles in 2018, said the team was on the same page all year long.
“Our mentality was still the same,” in spite of the rough start, Kendrick said.
“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 ... 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.”
Martinez said after Game 7 of the World Series, that he was just happy for the opportunity he received after his playing days, and 10 years at Joe Maddon’s side as the bench coach both in Tampa Bay and Chicago.
“Just overall just to be a manager who gets an opportunity to even play in the World Series, and now to win it, what an unbelievable feeling,” Martinez said.
“Honestly, it still hasn’t hit me yet, but I can tell you I’ll wake up tomorrow feeling a whole lot different.”
Once he had time to process what his club accomplished, Martinez addressed his team as they celebrated with the city during their championship parade.
“All this right here,” he said, taking in the crowd, and with his team gathered around him on the stage, “has cured this heart.”
Martinez, of course, had a heart-related health scare late in the season, but was able to get back with the team after a short absence.
“I believed since Day 1 that this thing would turn around,” he continued, “... that we had the group of guys that had the strength and courage to make this thing turn around.”
They did turn things around, taking the “1-0 every day” talk seriously, living the “Stay in the Fight” motto Martinez introduced along the way, and ultimately overcoming the Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, and Houston Astros on their way to the first World Series title by a D.C.-based team since 1924.
“You don’t have to tell me to stay in the fight, I’m going to fight,” Martinez said at another point in his speech at the parade, when his ejection late in Game 6 came up.
“I’m going to stick up for these boys, because they stuck up for me all year long.”
And his “1-0 every day” talk? Martinez said it’s not just about baseball.
“1-0. 1-0 is not over. 1-0 means waking up tomorrow and winning your day. Win your day.”
Martinez and his coaches led the Nationals all the way to the World Series championship in his second season as manager.
Now he’s heading into the third year of the 3-year deal he signed in late 2017.
Did the success the team had this year earn the manager a longer contract that will keep him in Washington beyond 2020?
There’s a club option for 2021 (at $1.2M) included in the three-year contract they gave him according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
Will the Nats pick that up early and ensure some stability for an organization that hasn’t had a manager complete three full seasons on the bench in the 15 years since baseball returned to D.C. in 2005?