The Nationals needed to win today, plain and simple. It did not matter who they were playing. It did not matter who was on the mound for either team. It did not matter how they felt physically or emotionally as they navigate their way through a particularly grueling final portion of their schedule. It didn’t even matter who was managing from the dugout.
After dropping the first two games of this series and after dropping 8-of-12 overall to see their once-comfortable lead in the wild card race shrink to very uncomfortable numbers, the Nationals simply needed to find a way to beat the Braves this afternoon.
They did, in thorough and convincing fashion, beating the Braves 7-0 behind a gem from Aníbal Sánchez and a well-balanced offensive attack that included several impressive at-bats against an opposing left-hander who carved them up one week ago.
They also did so without Davey Martinez in the dugout for the final three innings. The second-year manager was taken to a hospital after complaining of not feeling well, though he is expected to rejoin the team in St. Louis in time for Monday’s game.
“He wasn’t feeling good, so just for precautionary reasons they took him to the hospital just to see what’s going on,” said bench coach Chip Hale, who took over managing duties after Martinez departed during the sixth inning. “But we’re expecting everything will be good.”
It had been an emotional 24 hours for Martinez, who weathered criticism for his handling of Saturday’s 10-1 loss, both his bullpen decisions and his request of the umpiring crew to check if Braves utilityman Charlie Culberson still offered at Fernando Rodney’s seventh inning pitch even though the pitch struck him in the face as he attempted to bunt.
Whether anything that took place on the field these last two days had anything to do with Martinez’s medical situation is left for doctors and the 54-year-old manager to figure out. No matter the case, there was optimism in the Nationals clubhouse after the game that he will be fine and will be ready to lead the team through the final two weeks of the regular season and beyond.
“I know he’ll be in St. Louis,” Hale said. “We expect it.”
Martinez’s early departure came near the end of an otherwise flawless game for the Nationals, who needed it in order to maintain their wild card lead over the also-victorious Cubs (1 1/2 games) and Brewers (2 1/2 games).
For that, they can thank Sánchez, who once again came up big in a big game.
The veteran right-hander tossed seven scoreless innings, scattering three hits and never giving a formidable Braves lineup an opportunity to get anything going at the plate. He walked off the field after throwing 109 pitches to a standing ovation from the crowd of 29,350 and plenty of handshakes and high-fives in the dugout.
“Amazing,” Sánchez said. “I think that’s what we needed right now. Every game that we win right now is really important for us, and to have the opportunity to help the team today is huge for me.”
Sánchez continued his mastery of tough opposition. In nine starts this season vs. the Braves, Dodgers, Cubs and Twins, he has posted a 2.91 ERA.
“You have a big-game pitcher in Sánchez,” Hale said. “You look around the times he pitches against the really good teams, he does a great job. This is one we needed, so he did it. He got us going.”
So did a Nationals lineup that took down Max Fried only one week after the Atlanta lefty completely shut it down with one of the best pitching performances of this season by any opposing starter.
Kendrick would add a solo homer in the fifth, raising his season batting average to .337 to go along with 15 homers and 60 RBIs despite only 337 plate appearances while Martinez tries to limit his playing time to keep his oft-injured legs fresh.
“I’m not an everyday guy anymore,” Kendrick said. “And I know that, and he knows and I’m not going to complain one bit about the way I’ve been used. When I play, I play. When I don’t, I’m ready to play and go in the game.”
The Nats now head to St. Louis for a tough series with the NL Central-leading Cardinals. They again will need to find a way to win games and maintain their position atop the wild card standings. And they will hope their manager is back in the dugout with them, feeling better after today’s health scare.
“I love Davey,” Kendrick said. “He’s done a great job this year. I wish him the best right now. I don’t know what’s really going on, but hopefully it’s nothing major.”