HOUSTON (AP) — Howie Kendrick sure has a knack for the dramatic.
At 36 — eight years removed from his only All-Star appearance — his go-ahead, two-run homer off Will Harris in the seventh inning lifted the Washington Nationals over the Houston Astros 6-2 Wednesday night in Game 7 for his team’s first World Series title.
Steady-handed and battle-tested, Kendrick came through at the biggest moments of the Nationals’ October run.
“He’s been one of the heart and souls of this team,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said.
Kendrick’s grand slam against Joe Kelly broke a 10th-inning tie in the decisive Game 5 of the Division Series, giving the Nationals a 7-3 win — just the second extra-inning slam in postseason history.
“The grand slam is still the biggest moment because we wouldn’t be here without that,” Kendrick said as teammates sprayed beer and bubbly on him in the boisterous visitors’ clubhouse. “So for me, that’s still got to be the top moment in my career, but this is truly special.”
Kendrick hit .333 with four doubles and four RBIs in a League Championship Series sweep of St. Louis, earning MVP.
He was 5 for 22 with one RBI in the World Series when he came to the plate in the seventh inning of Game 7. Anthony Rendon had just homered off Zack Greinke, cutting the Nationals’ deficit to 2-1.
Juan Soto walked on five pitches and Harris relieved. Kendrick swung over a curveball at the knees and drove a cutter on the low, outside corner down the right field line. George Springer sprinted toward the corner. Harris watched. The crowd was silenced, hoping the ball would be caught or curve foul.
Instead, it bounced off the foul pole screen.
Kendrick shouted his way around the bases and danced in the dugout with his younger teammates. For one last time this season, Kendrick and Adam Eaton celebrated by shifting gears and slamming the gas pedal in their imaginary car. Forget about over the hill — Kendrick showed he still had plenty in the tank.
He became the second player to hit a home run in a winner-take-all Series game from the seventh inning on that took his team from a deficit into the lead, following an eighth-inning drive by Pittsburgh’s Hal Smith in Game 7 of the 1960 Series against the New York Yankees.
He’s also the only player 36 or older to hit a go-ahead homer in the seventh inning or later of a winner-take-all postseason game. Of course, he’s done it twice, both this year.
Kendrick singled in the eighth, reaching for the third time.
“There’s guys in a big moment you want up there,” Martinez said.
Kendrick immediately donated the ball, with a yellow streak of paint from hitting the screen, to the Hall of Fame, a part of his career to be celebrated at Cooperstown.
He first came up to the major leagues with the Angels in 2006. He thought back to a three-week demotion to the minors in 2009, when he was hitting just .231.
“Probably the lowest I was at in my career,” Kendrick said. “And Torii Hunter told me, he goes, man, when you come back you’re going to be a completely different guy. And it feels like ever since that time I’ve been a better player, a more confident player and just more of a teammate, more of a veteran guy.”
Kendrick signed with the Dodgers after the 2015 season, then got dealt to Philadelphia in November 2016.
“I was kind of thinking about retirement,” he said.
He kept on playing and was traded to Washington in July 2017 and re-signed with the Nationals during the offseason.
His first full season with Washington ended early in 2018, when he tore his right Achilles tendon while retreating to catch a fly ball to left field against the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 19. Even then, he didn’t get too down.
“There’s no point in being mopey about it,” he said. “It won’t heal as fast. So the happier I am, the faster I’ll heal.”
Kendrick caught Martinez’s attention during training camp.
“When he showed up at spring training we thought he wasn’t going to be able to do much,” the manager recalled. “I had to kind of ease his way, to say, ‘Hey, look, one, you’re not a spring chicken anymore.'”
Kendrick wound up hitting .344 with 17 homers and 62 RBIs in 121 games, missing time in August with a strained left hamstring.
Little did he know his signature moments were ahead. Two of them.
“It makes it all the work worth it,” he said.
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