Second baseman Howie Kendrick won MVP of the 2019 National League Championship Series with consistent hitting through the Nationals’ four-game sweep of the Cardinals, completed Tuesday with a 7-4 win. The victory secured for the Nats a berth in their first-ever World Series.
He also hit a dramatic grand slam in Game 5 of the National League Division Series to help eliminate his former team, the Dodgers.
Kendrick went 5-for-15 (.333) in the four-game sweep of the Cards, collecting four doubles, four RBIs and two walks to earn the NLCS Most Valuable Player honors.
In the postseason he is hitting .289 (11-for-38) with four doubles, one homer and nine RBIs.
An amazing turnaround for Kendrick, who went out with a ruptured Achilles tendon on May 18, 2018.
“I knew I was ready coming into spring because of the work I did put in to get back,” Kendrick said. “It was a long road. I think, right after having surgery on my Achilles, I had to stay here for about six weeks, and it was killing me not to be able to play. But I think being around with the guys, and having a good attitude and just focusing on trying to get healthy - that’s why I went home, because I knew I had to go home to get healthy, and that was my best shot.”
On that horrible Saturday in May last season came a glimmer of the future. The Nats called up hot prospect Juan Soto to take Kendrick’s place on the roster. Soto and Kendrick were key cogs to the Nats’ run to the pennant this season.
“I told them before I left, I said, ‘I’ll be ready for spring training,’” Kendrick said. “Some people were like, ‘Yeah, yeah, we’ll see.’ I wasn’t joking when I said that. To be able to be back with these guys, guys like Zim, Rendon, Soto, Trea Turner, it means a lot to be around those guys. I learn so much from them, and I love these guys just as much as they love me, and I know that 100 percent. I think that’s the big reason why we have success, because we truly care about the next guy.”
Nats general manager Mike Rizzo believed in Kendrick’s ability when the Nationals signed him at the beginning of the 2018 season. Rizzo said his 36-year-old veteran has been the club’s “Mr. Professional Hitter” all season long.
“Howie’s got a big strong back, because he carried us for three months,” Rizzo said. “When we were down and we had a bunch of players on the disabled list, Howie was the one guy who could be a threat in the batter’s box for a long, long time. Had a terrific season. He’s always been a terrific teammate. He’s had a magical season and he really carried us for a long time.”
Kendrick went 2-for-4 in Game 1 and 3-for-4 in Game 3 against St. Louis. He has had at least one hit in seven of the Nats’ 10 playoff games.
Kendrick said last year’s major injury made him feel awful because he felt he was in a nice groove at the plate when it happened. The Nats failed to make the postseason in 2018. In 2019, the team started 19-31, but then went 82-40 for a shot at a World Series title.
This season, Kendrick dealt with a tender hamstring that forced him to miss 14 games. He went on the injured list twice. Kendrick knew he had to be careful. The Nats limited his time on the field. But once the postseason started, Kendrick was again an everyday player.
“I felt like last year when I got hurt I wasn’t too happy about that because the season was, we were looking pretty good to start out,” Kendrick said. “I didn’t really expect this coming back in, but I knew I love winning, man, and I know (Ryan Zimmerman) loves winning. That’s why we play this game, to be sitting here for this moment.”
It was not a comfortable start in the field for Kendrick in the NLDS either. He committed three errors early on. There were a few at-bats in which Kendrick tried to get it all back with one swing, and it wasn’t happening. Then the grand slam happened. He had five hits in the final four games of the Dodgers series.
“I’ve got a picture on my phone that I took after the L.A. series when he, I hate to call them errors, but he made an error,” Martinez said. “Everybody knows that. They showed him in the dugout, and his face just said it all. He felt like he let the team down. And for him to come back and do what he’s done in this series and there and hit that grand slam in L.A., that only tells you what kind of person, what kind of player he is.”
Kendrick has been here before, but never this far. He has played in now three championship series, but never had the success at the plate like he had in this one. In his eighth overall postseason appearance, 2019 will also mark Kendrick’s first Fall Classic appearance.
“You’ve got to earn it, man,” Kendrick said. “All the things in the past, all the failures, and losing in the first round, because I’ve been there, too. It just makes it sweet because, as we’re getting older, the game keeps getting younger. But to see a team like us continue to grind, and I think the mixture of people that we do have is what makes us so good. The chemistry that we do have, we understand each other.
“I feel like being around this long, I wouldn’t change anything about the past because this is just, I mean, it’s unbelievable.”