People won’t remember the three errors. They won’t remember the 0-for-4 day. Heck, they may not even remember the four games that came before this one.
They’ll remember the bases being loaded. They’ll remember the ball flying deep into centerfield. They’ll remember that moment of “Is it going to make it over the fence?” They’ll remember the pure elation when it did. Or, if they’re from the other side, they’ll remember the kick to the gut.
Most of all, though, they’ll remember Howie Kendrick.
What we saw Wednesday night during Game 5 of the National League Division Series was one of those moments that will live forever. It was Kirk Gibson. It was Aaron Boone. It was David Freese. It’s the type of thing that gets a player invited to the annual legends day for as long as he wants to attend. It’s one of those you’ll-never-buy-a-beer-in-this-city-again moments.
It was history flying over that fence.
It’s been broadcast everywhere by now, but if you haven’t seen it: Kendrick came up in the 10th inning of the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles’ Dodgers do-or-die Game 5 with the bases loaded. The game was knotted at three after Clayton Kershaw, pitching out of the bullpen, allowed back-to-back home runs in the eighth to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto.
The tension was burning. There was no room for error. A trip to the National League Championship Series was on the line and the next team that scored was probably going to claim it. It would be the first step back to the World Series for the Dodgers. But it would be a step the Nationals had never taken. Not just while Kendrick was there. Ever.
So there was Howie Kendrick, a 36-year-old who had played for four teams in 14 seasons, including the Dodgers in 2015 and 2016. And there was Joe Kelly, who maybe shouldn’t have been back on the mound for the Dodgers in the 10th inning. A single would work wonders for the Nats. A double would virtually ensure a trip to the NLCS. But Kendrick pulled off something even better.
The pitch — a 97 mph four-seamer — met the bat and flew. Cody Bellinger gave chase in center. The ball hung in the air. Bellinger looked up. He had no chance. And, in that moment, neither did the Dodgers.
The grand slam gave the Nationals a 7-3 lead that would soon enough become a 7-3 win. Not only was it historic in that it propelled the Nationals further into the postseason than they’d ever been, it was a bit of rarified air for Kendrick.
He’s now one of only two players to hit an extra-inning grand slam in a playoff game. Nelson Cruz was the first in the 2011 ALCS. He’s one of only three players in history to hit an extra-inning homer in a winner-take-all postseason game.
Extra-inning HR in winner-take-all games:
- 2003 ALCS Game 7 Aaron Boone (walk-off, solo)
- 2016 AL Wild Card Game Edwin Encarnacion (walk-off, 3-run)
- 2019 NLDS Game 5 Howie Kendrick (go-ahead, grand slam)
— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) October 10, 2019
This was redemption for Kendrick. He’d made three errors in the series, including one in Game 5 at first base that led to the Dodgers’ second run. There was another in Game 1 that also led to a Dodgers score. He was 0-for-4 in this game before the grand slam. People on Twitter were fed up with him, saying he was a liability or having a flat-out terrible series or a Dodgers double agent.
One swing, he proved, can erase all of it.
“All the effort and all the trying, sometimes maybe trying a little bit too hard, it all paid off in that swing,” Kendrick told MLB Network after the game. “Regardless of our missteps or things that have happened in the past, you gotta keep moving forward and just try to make good plays.
And sometimes in that pursuit, you produce a moment people will never forget.
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