You don’t have to tell Davey Martinez about sticking with it, grinding out games even if things aren’t going your way, and looking to turn things around even when it seems the odds are against you. He is Mr. 1-0 every day, of course. He knows bumpy roads and he knows they often lead to beautiful places, but he doesn’t necessarily like to always hear your 19-31 talk.
“19-31, it happened, it was there, but I don’t like that number,” Martinez told reporters late in 2020’s disappointing follow-up from the Nationals’ stunning reversal of fortune in 2019 that ended with a World Series championship following a run that began after they fell 12 under .500 in the 50th game of that season.
“I don’t want to be 19-31 anymore, I want to be 31-19, or 31-10, whatever it may be,” he added at another point in the press conference to announce his long-term extension with the club last fall.
“I’ve got plenty of those t-shirts, so we’re good with that, 19-31,” Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo chimed in. “We’re good with that.”
Martinez wasn’t thrilled to be reminded last weekend about the anniversary of the day his club fell to 19-31 with the fourth straight loss to the New York Mets in Citi Field on May 23, 2019.
“I try to forget about those days,” Martinez joked with the reporter who brought the date up.
“It’s funny, because it’s hard to forget only because of where we ended up,” he explained.
“And that’s kind of what I tell the players, it’s not really how you start, it’s where we end up. And like I said, these guys have been playing hard, they’ve been playing hard all year long.”
A win later that afternoon left the Nationals 20-23, guaranteeing that they would not hit the iconic mark again, but it’s not the start anyone in D.C. wanted for the team this year.
“We’ve had a tough schedule, but we’re starting to play better, things are starting to click, the pitchers are pitching well, we’re starting to hit the ball a little bit better, so let’s continue to do that,” Martinez said.
Their epic comeback in 2019, however, is looked at by teams who are struggling as a source of inspiration as they continue plugging and grinding away.
“The farther removed I get from it,” former Nationals’ closer Sean Doolittle said this week, as he and his new team, the Cincinnati Reds, started a series in D.C. “The more perspective that you have, you really realize — I know May 24th it’s not really Memorial Day weekend, it’s still the first quarter of the season or whatever. It’s 12 games under .500 and we pulled that off.”
He said his new teammates have brought up the Nationals’ run in ‘19 at times in his first year with the Reds.
“[The Reds] were like ‘Oh, we played you guys right after you guys just started turning it around’ and they were like ‘then we played you guys again later in the summer’ it might’ve been like August and they were like ‘you guys scored like 10 runs in all of the games we played you guys, you guys were like a completely different team,’” Doolittle recalled, “... and, I mean, that’s kind of what it felt like. It was two completely different seasons even though the guys on the team, it was kind of the same group, we didn’t really shuffle too much, but something happened.”
What did happen?
“And that’s the other question, is like everybody’s like ‘What happened after that? How did you guys turn it around?’ and it’s like, we just did. We had a bunch of team meetings, but I don’t remember really what that eureka moment was. We came off that four-game sweep in New York, took three of four from the Marlins, and we were kind of off and running. It just shows that you’ve got to keep grinding it out.”
“I think we might be like an inspiration to other teams, that 2019 team,” Doolittle said. “I feel like well, the Nats did it, it’s like yeah, that was a special group, but it’s possible.”
“It only goes to tell you that it’s a long year,” Martinez said of the ‘19 club’s run becoming a source of inspiration for other teams.
“We talked about the first 40 games of the season,” he said, referring to an exchange in a Q&A with reporters after the 40th game this year.
“When you bring that up — when you think about it, you’ve still got 122 games. So, that’s a lot of baseball. And that’s why I say, I often tell these guys especially early, last year we had a sprint out of the gate and it just didn’t happen. We had a lot of things go on and it just wasn’t the same. This year you want to get out to a great start, believe me, you know, come August you want to be looking back and kind of tell yourself, ‘Okay, we’re in the driver’s seat, but sometimes you just got to grind it out and get there and see what happens when you get to August, but I love the fact that we get a chance to play 162 games and still have a lot of baseball left, a lot of good baseball left, and have a chance to get to that postseason again, and do the things that we did in ‘19. For me it’s a lot of fun. It’s been a grind, and these guys have done well, they really have, they’ve stuck together, I really feel like the culture of our team this year is about as good as any other team that we’ve had, so it’s been a lot of fun.”
In spite of their slow start again this year, just 20-24 after the loss in the series opener with the Reds on Tuesday, the Nationals were just 3.0 games out (in last place) in the division on Wednesday morning, and though he still doesn’t look at the standings at this point, Martinez said that there is a lot of baseball to play, in a tough division, and plenty of time to turn this around.
“The big thing for me is that we’re starting to play well and we’re starting to hit the ball, we’re starting to drive in some runs, and our pitching has done well, so I’m not overly concerned about what other teams do,” he said. “It is what it is. Our division seems to be beating each other up, and yeah, it’s kind of nice that because we’re 20-, we’re still fighting to be at the top of the division, but we still got a long way to go and we’ve got continue to play consistently now, and that’s the key, is to come out there, score first, and try to go 1-0 today.”