You’d be forgiven, Nats fans, if you wanted Howie Kendrick out of the game long before his instantly legendary grand slam in the top of the 10th that won the Nationals their first-ever playoff series. Kendrick, despite turning in a pleasant surprise of a 2019 season that saw him become one of Washington’s better players, was so mistake-prone as a fielder and runner in the NLDS that TBS had a whole lowlights package ready after he socked the huge dinger.
At the plate, he wasn’t much better. A mere 5-for-22 in the postseason before that grand salami, Kendrick’s previous at-bats in Game 5 were all unlucky or just plain bad: two strikeouts, a GIDP in the sixth with his team down 3-1, and a robbery of extra bases in the outfield by Cody Bellinger. All this from a guy who was coming off a career-best year at age 36—someone who hit .344 in his return from a 2018 Achilles injury. He looked almost like a liability for the Nats, at least until he stepped up to face Joe Kelly with the bases loaded.
This is not the Howie Kendrick most baseball fans know. He’s a guy with a long run as a mostly serviceable infielder, with one all-star season, and that in itself is impressive for how far it exceeds the average baseball life. But his history-making dinger completely redefined a 14-year career, turning him from Future Guy to Timeless Hero with one swing of the bat. On the video, the way that longball to center sucks the life out of Dodger Stadium—yet again crushing L.A.’s hopes at a title—is unreal. With as few Nats fans as were at that park, the cheers for the homer sound like they’re coming from a Saturday afternoon Little League game. Here’s a better view, from D.C., of what that grand slam meant:
“Probably the best moment of my career,” Kendrick said afterwards. “You can’t make this stuff up.”
No “probably” needed. That was the 135th postseason plate appearance of Kendrick’s life, and none of them came within miles of carrying that kind of impact. Whatever Kendrick does to finish off the final act of his career, he’s already delivered something to the Nationals that no other player, in four other heartbreaking tries since 2012, could manage to do. It’s Nats-Cardinals for the NL Pennant, and somehow, because playoff baseball is chaos, that’s all because of Howie Kendrick.