WASHINGTON — Dave Martinez’s words were drenched with emotion as he stood in a booze-soaked clubhouse, Washington Nationals players celebrating all around after clinching a National League wild card exactly four months after they woke up with a 19-31 record and calls for him to be replaced as manager.
Quite a turnaround for Martinez — and for his club.
“They don’t want to go home. They want to keep playing,” Martinez said Tuesday night, wearing the same red T-shirt reading “Let’s get wild” as his players had on. “They don’t quit.”
Trea Turner’s go-ahead grand slam in the sixth inning lifted Washington to a 6-5 comeback victory over the Philadelphia Phillies for a doubleheader sweep that assured the Nationals of extending their season and eliminated the Phillies from playoff contention.
“They’re resilient. Perfect example: Tonight they were down, but they never feel like they’re out,” Martinez said. “They stick together. And here we are, going to the postseason.”
He missed three full games and part of another this month because of a heart issue; the 54-year-old skipper was back in the dugout four days after having a cardiac catheterization.
“They keep telling me how much they want to play for me,” Martinez said in the mayhem, his voice cracking. “And I tell them it’s not about me. It’s about us. Just play for us.”
Washington is returning to the playoffs for the fifth time in eight years after sitting out October in 2018, when the team went 82-80 in Martinez’s rookie year as a manager.
Things started roughly in 2019: Washington was 12 games below .500 after a loss on May 23 concluded a four-game sweep at the New York Mets.
At that point, the Nationals were fourth in the NL East, thanks to defensive sloppiness, bad base running and, above all, unreliable-as-can-be work from the bullpen.
But Martinez retained his always-sunny disposition and remained in his post, unwilling to publicly criticize his players and, in a participation-trophy sort of way, often pointing out how hard they had tried in defeat.
Eventually, things clicked. Washington went on a real roll, even playing winning baseball while Max Scherzer took two trips to the injured list with a back muscle problem.
Perhaps fittingly, it was three-time Cy Young Award winner Scherzer (11-7) who got the clinching win despite a rocky start, allowing a pair of homers to Brad Miller as Washington fell behind 4-2. But much like the way the entire season went, the Nationals dug themselves out.
“We knew nothing was going to be won or lost in the first five months,” said Turner, who had three hits in the day’s first game, a 4-1 win for the Nationals, “and now we’re in a good spot.”