There is almost no way that the Washington Nationals would have made it to the postseason if not for the contributions of super-utility slugger Howie Kendrick.
He finished the regular season with an offensive line of .344/.395/.966, but hit a relative slump when the calendar changed to October.
At the plate, he sagged to a pedestrian .278/.316/.594 and was downright disappointing in the field, where he frequently started at second base.
Two errors in Game 1 helped seal the Nats’ fate in their first loss of the postseason. Another early error in the field in Game 5 looked like it could contribute to another heartbreaking Game 5 loss in the NLDS.
It took more than nine innings, but Kendrick finally got his redemption, and then some.
Coming up with the bases loaded in the top of the 10th, Kendrick crushed a pitch to center field for what is almost certainly the biggest hit of his career: an extra innings grand slam in a postseason elimination game.
Surprisingly for the slugger, it was just the second grand slam home run of his career, and his first in postseason play. It also could not have come at a better time, as it carried the Nats to their first NLDS series victory in franchise history.
After the game, Kendrick couldn't help but grin.
"It was electric. Probably the best moment of my career...extra innings too. You can't make this up. A dream come true," he told Alex Chappell on the field. "There is no success without effort or error. The ups, the downs. I don't think any of us would change it for anything."
With Brian Dozier and Asdrubal Cabrera on the roster, manager Dave Martinez could have benched Kendrick as a starter. Considering it was late in the game, he also could have lifted him for a defensive replacement.
Whether you call it gutsy or reckless, Martinez gave Kendrick every opportunity to atone for his errors.
There's a theme here, as Martinez did the same with Patrick Corbin, whose erratic performance out of the bullpen in Game 3 cost the Nats dearly. Once Stephen Strasburg was spent in Game 5, Martinez did not hesitate to go back to Corbin, who delivered 1.1 electric innings, earning strikeouts for three of his four outs.
But that pales in comparison to Kendrick’s comeback. The Nats clawed back into the game on back-to-back home runs off the bats of Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto. The home runs gave the Nats the first lead of the game and chased Clayton Kershaw.
Tied at three in the 10th inning, Kendrick gave the Nats a decisive lead. In their third win of the series, the Nats dealt the Dodgers back-to-back losses for the first time since early September. No team with as many regular-season wins as the Dodgers (106) has ever failed to advance past the NLDS
Most importantly, the Nats finally made it to the NLCS, exorcising demons that have haunted this franchise for years. They will continue reveling in the underdog role, traveling to St. Louis to battle the Cardinals for the pennant. The Cards already disposed of the Braves in their NLDS matchup.
If the Nats expect to contend for the World Series, they will need a few more clutch hits from Kendrick.
Brian Tinsman has covered D.C. sports since 2011, both from the team marketing and skeptical fan perspectives. Tweet your criticisms @Brian_Tinsman.