I remember when the MLB playoffs began several weeks ago, I crafted a list in my head ranking the ten eligible teams from most the likely to win the World Series to the least. At the top of this metaphorical countdown were the ever-dominant Houston Astros, followed by my beloved New York Yankees and then the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Way down deep on this list resting between both the Oakland Athletics in eighth and the Minnesota Twins in tenth were the Washington Nationals, a team so snakebitten by it’s past failures in big spots that it seemed entirely INCONCEIVABLE to me that they would do anything of any importance at all and they would be quickly dispatched in either the Wild Card game or in the NLDS.
Now imagine my surprise when those so-called “cursed” Nationals marched into Houston on Wednesday and won their first-ever World Series in decisive fashion. And while much of the news cycle has rightfully revolved around the perceived mistakes Astros’ manager AJ Hinch made with his bullpen in the series finale, as well as trying to conceive just how the Nationals were able to win four consecutive games inside Minute Maid Park, I wanted to start my writing on this inexplicable series by waxing poetic about one of my favorite random players, Howie Kendrick.
I think it’s safe to say that if you were to line up every member of the Nationals’ postseason roster from this year, Howie Kendrick wouldn’t be the first guy you would point to being the most responsible for bringing the title to DC. I mean less than two years ago, he literally tore the Achilles Tendon in his right foot, which is easily the worst news an athlete could ever receive regarding his or her own career. But with time, patience, and pure grit, the dependable infielder returned to duty in time for the start of the 2019 season with what can only be described as little fanfare from the media.
Here’s the thing, though. It’s not as if he returned to action and became more of a hindrance to his team, far from it. In 2019, this “old man” posted career-highs in batting average (.344), OPS (.966), and OPS+ (142), and also clobbered 17 home runs and drove in 62 RBIs. He looked as good at the dish as he ever had and people were starting to raise their eyebrows just a little bit. But all this was just a tasty appetizer to what was yet to come.
When we examine Howie Kendrick’s incredible playoff run years from now, one of the highlights I’m sure will be remembered first will be Kendrick’s grand slam in extra innings against the Dodgers that won the Nats the NLDS. Not only was it just ever so beautiful to watch such a dominating team like the Dodgers get bounced from the playoffs so early, but it was also really cool to finally witness the Nats win their first-ever playoff series.
After dispatching Los Angeles, Kendrick continued to lead the Nats during the franchise’s first-ever NLCS series. During the District’s 4-game sweep against the hapless St. Louis Cardinals, Kendrick posted a .333 batting average, a 1.102 OPS, drove in four RBIs, and won the series MVP. He looked as dominant as he ever had, and yet this series will remain his most forgettable as he didn’t pick up another highlight at the same level as the aforementioned grand slam. Luckily for him, however, he had one more moment left in the tank.
Howie Kendrick’s pièce de résistance, a now-famous two-run home run off Will Harris in the top of the 7th, came at the perfect time not only for the team or the fans but frankly for his own legacy. Too many times have sports fanatics like us seen such impressive playoff performances fall to obscurity after his team couldn’t get it done in the end. It’s just one of those harsh facts of life that many of us are used to seeing every year. For every David Freese, you could find five or six Rajai Davis’. Heck, just a few innings before this happened, Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel hit a now totally forgotten home run off Max Scherzer in the 2nd inning.
Quite frankly, I think that’s precisely why I wanted to write a little something on Howie. I wanted to give my respect to a player who had to overcome so much to get to this point. He had to overcome almost losing his job early in his career with the Angels. He had to overcome being shipped off to other clubs it seemed his shelf life was limited. And most importantly, he had to overcome a career-altering injury just for an opportunity to pay it all back when the team, and city, needed it the most.
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