Howie Kendrick has had some big moments in his career, but never a grand slam. And never a walk-off extra-inning grand slam with his brand-new team.
That all happened with one swing to finish off a laborious day of baseball for the Nationals. Kendrick's grand slam in the bottom of the 11th Sunday night lifted the Nats to a 6-2 series-clinching win over the Giants.
"It was pretty cool. I'm not going to lie," Kendrick said. "That was my first grand slam. When I hit it I thought it was just going to go in the gap and I was just running hard, excited, because I knew we were going to win the game. But to have it go out of the park, to me that was probably one of the best moments of my career."
Manager Dusty Baker spoke afterwards of the importance of bringing on a veteran bat like Kendrick. His importance becomes intensified with the news early in the day that Bryce Harper had to be placed on the 10-day disabled list with a hyperextended left knee.
"We knew he was going to be big when we first got him because I know how he was on the other side of the field," Baker said of Kendrick. "You really don't want to face him because he's strong enough to hit the ball out, but he has great bat control to hit the ball to right field at any time. And he's great with two outs. He has a great attitude. The guys on the team love him. I'm just glad we have him. He has a smile on his face all the time. He's been a great pleasure and joy to have on this team."
Max Scherzer, who kept his club in the game, allowing two runs over seven innings with 10 strikeouts, said he appreciates what Kendrick brings to his new team. Scherzer did not factor into the decision.
"He's just a professional," Scherzer said. "You already knew that from playing against him but now that he's in the clubhouse with you, he's on your side. He really knows what he's doing. He's played this game long enough. He knows how to anticipate certain things and a lot of times he's right there with you. He grinds out all of his A-B's. He's an ultimate pro in how he handles every single at-bat."
The 11th inning was set up thanks to a smart baseball play from another veteran on the club in second baseman Daniel Murphy, who had led off the frame with a single. Murphy hustled all the way to third on a bloop single by Ryan Zimmerman - which looked like it could have been caught by the Giants' Joe Panik. With runners on the corners, the Giants opted to intentionally walk Anthony Rendon in front of Kendrick. Kendrick had only three homers coming into the game-changing at-bat.
"That was an outstanding job of base running by Daniel Murphy," Baker noted. "That was a perfect, perfect read. That was textbook. Anybody that teaches or studies base running, that was primo. That set up the fact that they had to walk the bases loaded to pitch to Howie."
But the night belonged to Kendrick, who celebrated with his teammates at home plate after the walk-off grand slam. He said it was an important moment in his season because getting a game-winning hit for his new club signified he was important to them in their eyes too.
"It's huge. To be able to come here and fit in with these guys, they already had a winning team. And to be able to become a part of this team, I think they've accepted me, in a sense," Kendrick said.
"I came here just wanting to be a part of the team. I'm not trying to step on anybody's toes. I just want to fit in and do my part as a player. It's been really easy to fit in with everybody, the personalities here, the guys they have in this locker room. Everybody seems to mesh really well. Made it easy.
"Because I've known quite a few of the guys just from playing against them. To be able to be on the team with quite a few of the guys I looked up to or admired the way they play the game, it's truly special. I've always wanted the opportunity to play for Dusty. I'm happy to be here."
Baker confirmed the decision to have Kintzler pitch the eighth inning even though Ryan Madson had already warmed up.
"(Madson) just had a blister on his finger," Baker said. "He wasn't available because of that. He was slated to come in at the time when Kintzler came in. We decided to go with Kintzler. It's great to have that option. The bullpen did a great job. It was a long day, real long day today."