To: Howie Kendrick
From: Washington Nationals’ fans everywhere
Re: Thanks for the memories
We were saddened, but not surprised, by Monday’s announcement that you are retiring from baseball. After all, you did give us a strong hint back in October, when you told us how frustrating it was to be healthy enough to play in just 25 of the Nats’ 60 scheduled games in 2020.
Still, we wanted to tell you one last time what you really mean to us. After all, we wouldn’t have a 2019 World Series championship banner waiting to be raised at Nationals Park if it wasn’t for you.
The best part about it was that it wasn’t just one game that made you a hero. We will remember forever the 2019 postseason when you hit safely in 12 of 17 games, drove in 12 runs and hit a pair of homers, and what a pair they were.
First, there was the tenth-inning, go-ahead, NLDS Game 5 grand slam against the Dodgers. They didn’t want to pitch to Juan Soto with nobody out and men on second and third. But when Joe Kelly served up an 0-1 fastball right down the middle of the plate, we knew... he knew... heck, everyone in Dodger Stadium knew that the Nats were about to win their first postseason series in five tries.
We saw the look on your face, we heard that beautiful sound off the bat, and then we saw Cody Belinger stop and sink his face into the fence, while the ball sailed into the batter’s eye between the pavilions, 449 feet from home plate. It was your longest home run ever.
And that was only your second-most treasured homer. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
There was the matter of winning the Nationals’ first pennant since 1933, and in a 4-0 NLCS sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, you weren’t just key, you were the MVP, going 5-for-15 with four doubles and four RBI.
Then in a World Series that was an emotional roller coaster for both the Nats and the Houston Astros, you provided the last thrill, this time, trailing 2-1 in the seventh inning of Game 7. Again, the other team walked Soto ahead of you. This time, the Astros even brought in ace setup man Will Harris for a righty-righty matchup. He’d given up only one run all postseason.
You got an 0-1 cutter on the outside part of the plate, right where Harris wanted it. But that didn’t matter either. You just went with the pitch, muscling it off the end of your bat, and off it went, off the right-field foul pole, while another crowd watched in stunned silence.
The “clang” heard ‘round the world... or at least ‘round the Beltway.
As you were dancing in the dugout with Adam Eaton and the rest of your teammates, thousands were dancing in the rain outside Nationals Park, and millions more were dancing in our living rooms, in anticipation of a once-in-a-lifetime celebration.
And about those dances...
Of all the “dugout dance parties” after home runs, your “clutch and drive” duet with Adam Eaton might have been the most entertaining. Whenever you and Eaton followed a homer by pretending to drive racecars, it was like we were watching the team speed from the back of the pack into the lead.
But it really isn’t just one game or one postseason that we should celebrate. Your whole career with the Nats has been a treasure for us.
Back on July 28, 2017, when general manager Mike Rizzo traded a career minor leaguer and some international bonus cash to Philadelphia for you, we thought, “maybe he might be the guy to help get the Nats over the hump.”
In ten prior seasons, you’d played first, second, and third base and both corner outfield positions, so we knew you could help out almost anywhere on the field. And we’d seen firsthand your prowess at clutch hitting in the 2016 National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
With the score tied 1-1 in the top of the seventh inning of Game 5, you lined a one-out pinch-hit single to left off Blake Trienen, then came around to score and help the Dodgers secure a 4-3 win.
At the time of the trade from Philly, two of the Nats’ starting outfielders, Jayson Werth and Michael A. Taylor were hurting. Manager Dusty Baker put you in the starting lineup in your second game and you paid immediate dividends.
With an .837 OPS and seven home runs, you were a key part of a 95-win team that looked like it was ready to break the habit of NLDS losses. You made us immediate fans with a 5-for-5, two RBI game at Miami on Aug. 1 that included your first home run as a National, and a two-homer game on Aug. 9 against the team that gave you your major league start, the LA Angels.
But a funny thing happened in the 2017 postseason against the Cubs. Apparently, Baker didn’t think you would be the guy to get us over years of playoff frustration, because he left you on the bench while Werth struggled. You saw just two plate appearances while Werth went 3-for-18, and in Game 5, lost Addison Russell’s two-out fly ball in the lights for an RBI double in a 9-8 loss.
But you showed us you were in it for the long haul, coming back to Washington on a two-year deal.
The only thing you and we both might regret is that unfortunate 2018 season. Your ruptured Achilles tendon continued a terrible run of injuries that basically scuttled the season and made us wonder if the team was headed in the right direction under new skipper Davey Martinez.
Then came 2019 and the miracle comeback from 19-31. Your epic month of June, when you batted .323/.408/.532 with three homers and 12 RBI was key in getting the Nats back into the postseason picture, but it was only a small sign of what was to come in the postseason.
The 2020 season, what there was of it, was frustrating for us all. But we understand that even heroes can’t play forever.
Sometime, when the pandemic is over, and cheering crowds can return to the ballpark, we’ll all come out and give you the sendoff you deserve.
For now, please accept our best wishes for whatever comes next.
And thanks again for the World Series championship!