LOS ANGELES — Howie Kendrick got one more chance at redemption Wednesday, and he put the Washington Nationals in the National League Championship Series for the first time with a historic grand slam.
Kendrick’s blast in the 10th inning helped the Nationals pull off an improbable comeback to earn a 7-3 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of the National League Division Series.
Never before had a player hit a grand slam in extra innings of a winner-take-all game in postseason history.
The shot came at the end of a series in which Kendrick was exposed on defense, whether it was at first base or at second. He made an error on a Cody Bellinger ground ball in the third inning Wednesday after committing two errors in Game 1.
“I was hoping for any moment,” Kendrick said. “Being in that situation and to have the opportunity to come through in that situation, that means a lot. That’s probably the best moment of my career, that at-bat.”
He was far from the only hero on a Nationals team that advanced to its first NL Championship Series in five postseason appearances. The Montreal Expos reached the NLCS in 1981 well before their move to Washington for the start of the 2005 season.
The Nationals will open the NLCS on Friday at St. Louis, as the Cardinals won Game 5 of their NLDS 13-1 over the Atlanta Braves earlier Wednesday.
The Dodgers were six outs away from moving on after Walker Buehler pitched 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball and ace Clayton Kershaw got the last out in the seventh. But the Nationals tied the game 3-3 in the eighth inning on back-to-back home runs from Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto on consecutive Kershaw pitches.
“Not many people get to experience this or a moment like this,” Rendon said. “So obviously there’s going to be nerves and there’s going to be some emotions that are wild, but that’s what’s fun about it, that’s what’s awesome.”
While Kershaw has dominated in the regular season throughout his career, the postseason has been a completely different story. He now has a 4.43 ERA in 32 postseason appearances, having also taken the loss in Game 2 of this series.
“I’m not going to hang my head,” Kershaw said. “I’m going to be here, continue to try to fight, continue to try and compete. I’m not going to shy away from it. Everything people say is true right now about the postseason. I understand that. Nothing I can do about it right now. It’s a terrible feeling. It really is.”
Kendrick’s grand slam came off Dodgers right-hander Joe Kelly (0-1), who struggled to the tune of a 4.56 ERA in the regular season.
Max Muncy and Enrique Hernandez hit home runs as Los Angeles built a 3-0 lead through two innings.
The Dodgers’ streak of three consecutive appearances in the NLCS came to an end. Los Angeles appeared in each of the last two World Series before posting a franchise-record 106 victories in the regular season this year.
Buehler, who allowed four hits and three walks while striking out seven, pitched well for the second time in a series that seemed to anoint him as the new No. 1 pitcher in the Los Angeles rotation. He won Game 1, giving up just one hit over six scoreless innings.
Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg, who gave up just one run in a Game 2 victory, allowed three runs on six hits over six innings Wednesday with one walk and seven strikeouts. He entered having yielded just two earned runs in his previous 28 playoff innings.
—Field Level Media