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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Kings of the Road

The Washington Nationals defied the odds, questionable calls, and history to notch their first world championship.

In an astounding World Series, the Washington Nationals prevailed 4 games to 3 by defeating the heavily favored Houston Astros 6-2.  As such, this team managed to win the World Series without any victories on their home field. In fact, the Astros didn’t either, and since 4 games were played at Minute Maid Park, that is why the Astros fell short.

Actually, no team in the history of playoffs in Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association or the National Hockey League experienced a 7-game series where the visiting team won all the games. This was the first time, and celebrations in local bars were scant.

In the words of Vin Scully who famously called Kirk Gibson’s epic walk-off home run in 1988, “In the year of the improbable, the impossible just happened.” It should apply to this situation.

As I  previewed Game 5 of the National League Champion Series between the Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Nats appeared to be a “team of destiny” having survived the Wild Card game against the Milwaukee Brewers in come-from-behind fashion to move on.

The Nats, the oldest in baseball, were getting some breaks along their journey until the bats cooled off and were outscored 19-3 to Houston in the 3 games at rocking Nationals Park. Game 5 may be more remembered for the thunderous booing of President Trump in attendance than anything else.  A disappointing performance by the team  to be sure, but the fans still believed they had a chance, albeit not a great one, against the 107-win Astros. 

But they did because, yes, they were returning to the road again. The Nats prevailed in Game 6 behind the magnificent Stephen Strasburg despite an absolute horrendous call by umpire Sam Holbrook on a play wherebyTrea Turner was called for interference while legging out what should have been an infield hit. 

In Game 7 they again came from behind after being shutout for 6 innings on one hit and eventually won 6-2 to seal the deal.

The Nationals were 5-0 in elimination games during this post-season and were behind in all of them. It was an amazing run, and succeeding as they did on the road, winning the last 8 games as visitors, will be a subject of conversation in the coming weeks and months.

A year and a half removed from the Washington Capitals spectacular quest for the Stanley Cup (also with dominance on the road), the Nats' success in the World Series has given the area yet another lift and a well-deserved one at that.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Man Who Would be King

If you think things are bad now under Trump, imagine what a second term would look like.

Image: TheWrap
Just in time for the Halloween season, imagine this chilling, horrifying scenario. #hocopolitics

The impeachment of President Donald Trump is executed by the House of Representatives around January 2020 but the spineless, servile Republican senators fail to find him guilty. This despite compelling and irrefutable evidence of wrongdoing including abuse of power and obstruction of justice.

Trump then tweets until his fingers are overgrown with calluses and pounds his chest at his cult-like rallies exclaiming and repeating ad nauseam, “No abuse, no obstruction” throughout his re-election campaign.

Meanwhile, in collusion (yes, collusion) with the Trump campaign, Russia spews out fictional horror stories about the Democratic nominee that is designed to suppress the enthusiasm and voting of Democratic leaning minorities in key swing states—a repeat of the 2016 playbook.

A buoyed Trump, feeling exonerated by his Senate acquittal and with Russia’s help again, squeaks out another Electoral College victory.  Off he embarks on a second term regardless of nationwide demonstrations and collective hand-wringing from November into January. The American carnage, which he described in his 2017 inaugural address, will actually materialize.

Should this scenario play out, America, we have a problem.

As bad as things have been under Trump’s first term, we will witness the coronation of an unbridled King Donald I. 

His cabinet, filled with corrupt unqualified cronies similar to his first administration, will be his Palace Guard. They could very well include his adult children. The utterly humorless and pallid Prince Pence will then be the Court Jester. Picture that!

A compliant and even more fearful Senate than even in his first term will marvel at King Donald’s political skills and basically cave in on his demands. 

Emboldened by his winning, there will be no doubt that somehow that stupid wall will be built. Other screwed up domestic initiatives, especially on the culture front, will also be passed. Watch out Obamacare; this will undoubtedly be the end.

The economy will undoubtedly go into oblivion if it, in fact, survived a predicted recession in 2020. King Donald has zero knowledge of how the economy runs and eschews advice from any capable person left in his administration. Trade “deals” and weaponizing the use of tariffs will consume the news, and potential insider training spearheaded by King Donald will also ensue, as he manipulates the markets with fake announcements of deals. 

Image: DC Report
There will be no movement on gun safety, climate change, infrastructure, health care other than the destruction of the Affordable Care Act. 

Immigration policies will be even more brutal and heartless. The deficit and debt will spiral beyond belief and at unsustainable levels. 

Republicans will continue to cower. His base applauds his racist tropes at his soon-to-be weekly rallies. And boy, will he seek vengeance on his real or perceived enemies.

On the foreign policy side, if you think Trump already screwed up the Middle East, wait there’s more. King Donald, in pursuit of landing agreements to build Trump towers and resorts and to pay back Putin for all he has done to make him president first and later king, will snuggle up more with dictators around the world. Say good-bye to our major alliance NATO. Israel will be thrown under the bus. 

The chances for all-out war somewhere will escalate because of a foreign policy that is crafted by only the king who ignores the experts unless you believe the hosts on Fox and Friends and similar entertainers are experts. Because of Trump's debacle in Syria, acts of terrorism will surely increase.

This is what would happen when our institutions are gutted, when our democracy is obliterated by greed, corruption and thumbing the nose at the rule of law. 

Trump’s base will still follow him even as they lose health care, lose jobs and opportunities and will be oblivious to the fact that the United States—once respected and admired around the world—is no better than a banana republic. 

Our Constitution provides us with a president. There is no place for a king, but we may very well have one unless our country wakes up.

For a deeper dive, read this updated piece in the December 13, 2020 edition of Salon.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

How Sweep It Is

The Washington Nationals exorcised past demons to advance to the World Series.

Game 4 of the National League Champion Series between the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that has made 19 trips to the World Series, and the Washington Nationals, who have made exactly zero such appearances, took on an eerie and frightening feeling midway through the game. Just in time for Halloween. Except this was not a fun house by any means.

In what was arguably one of the most disappointing games in D.C. sports history, 7 years ago, the Nationals faced off against these Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series for a chance to advance to the NLCS. With a barrage of extra base hits, the Nats jumped out to a 6-0 lead and managed only one more run after the 3rd inning.

Twenty-one game winner southpaw Gio Gonzalez allowed the Cards to creep back into the game, yielding 3 runs in 5 innings. A bevy of relievers continued to fail culminating in a Cardinals 4-run rally in the 9th against Drew Storen to come back and shock the Nats and their fans in a devastating 9-7 loss.

Fast forward to Game 4 of the 2019 NLCS between the same teams in which Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina (Cards) and Ryan Zimmerman and Kurt Suzuki (Nats) remained as the only players from the 2012 series. In the 2019 edition of this matchup, there were differences, of course, but scary similarities as well.

In 2012, the Nationals had the best record in baseball with 98 wins. The current team with 93 wins was the NL Wild Card winner.  The 2012 game was the winner-take-all 5th game; the 2019 game was the 4th game with the Nats leading 3 games to none and looking to sweep.

Even with less pressure facing the Nats having built up that 3 game cushion, fans in Nationals Park and those watching on TV felt an unease that can only be described as “oh man, this can’t be happening again” because the similarities between 2012 and 2019 were too much to ignore.

In this game, the current Nats also trotted out their sterling left hander, reliable Patrick Corbin.  The Nats, like in 2012, also jumped out to a big lead, 7-0 in the first inning.  The Cards got it back to 7-4 with 4 innings left. Washington bats went silent after that first inning, not adding on.

The Nats’ Achilles heel all season has been the bullpen, though during the playoffs, they have been surprisingly effective. Could they survive the Cardinals’ desperate bid to stave off elimination and repeat the horrors of 2012?

Tanner Rainey, Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson slammed the door and the Nats held on to win the game and sweep the Cardinals in four. They head to the World Series for the first time in the franchise history to meet the Houston Astros or the New York Yankees.

For Corbin the game had some irony attached to it. For most of the early part of the season his offense either deserted him or the bullpen failed to protect leads he had before he had been removed. This night the opposite was true.

In previewing Game 5 of the NLDS between the Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers, I stated that the Nats have been the team of destiny. Including that game in which the Nats came from behind and won with a grand slam home run from the ageless Howie Kendrick and the way the Nats-Cardinals series played out, I am convinced that description is still applicable. 

To amplify that point, the Nats won the first two games of this series in St. Louis. Their record in that city since the Nats moved to D.C.? 13-33.

View the clinching game’s highlights below.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

‘Phantom’ Brings its Power to the Hippodrome

Derrick Davis as the Phantom and Emma Grimsley as Christine
Photo: Matthew Murphy

As Halloween season approaches, it is fitting that Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre presents the touring production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic The Phantom of the Opera

The legendary first notes heard from the Overture signal the spooky drama that is about to unfold. Replete with its masked ghoulish villain, a masquerade ball, exquisite imaginative costumes, horror, terror and fog, the atmosphere is just right for the Halloween mood. There are many tricks devised by the technical crew, and as a whole, the splendidly dramatic musical is a treat#hocoarts

Cameron Mackintosh’s production of Phantom remains largely faithful to the record-breaking original that has celebrated three decades on Broadway and still counting. Under the meticulous direction by Laurence Connor, this iteration of the musical is substantially different from its last appearance in Baltimore three years ago. It is more powerful with its larger and more ornate sets, increased special effects and an abundance of pyrotechnics throughout.
The Phantom of the Opera, which had opened on London’s West End 33 years ago, featuring the incomparable award-winning Michael Crawford in the title role, was scored by Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Charles Hart and additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe. It captured seven Tony Awards in 1988 including Best Musical and is among the highest grossing musicals of all time.

The love story-thriller is best known for its memorable songs, such as the rousing title number “The Phantom of the Opera,” the gorgeous and a personal favorite “The Music of the Night,” the tender ballad “All I Ask of You,” and the romantic “Wishing You Were Somehow Here.” It’s also known for the iconic dropping of a crystal chandelier over the audience (that doesn’t actually land, thank Goodness).

Based on the classic French novel Le Fantôme de L’Opéra by Gaston Leroux, Phantom’s familiar story binds the glorious music together.  It centers on a disfigured musical genius (The Phantom of the Opera played by Derrick Davis) who lurks in the labyrinths below the Paris Opera House in the mid-19th century.  He is completely obsessed with a young innocent soprano Christine Daaé (Emma Grimsley) whom he had taught. 

Through the use of threats, terror and even murder, he insists that the ingénue receive lead roles in current and future opera offerings.  All the while, a former childhood friend of Christine, Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny (Jordan Craig), falls in love with Christine as she does with him.  

However, Christine is torn between her love for Raoul and her gratitude towards the Phantom of the Opera for his teaching her to sing so beautifully.  This leads to the famously heart-pounding conclusion.

Paul Brown’s exquisite set design that includes the signature rising and crashing crystal chandelier allows for smooth transitions employing a rotating floor-to-ceiling cylindrical wall that opens up into various scenes as well as dropdown devices for a wide range of settings.  Among them are: the opera house stage, the manager’s office, the underground labyrinth, the Phantom’s lair, the grand ballroom and a graveyard.  For its part, the opera house set is a massive, multi-level ornate, gilded structure that frames the stage, which includes theater boxes. It is simply awesome.

"There are many tricks devised by the technical crew, and as a whole, the splendidly dramatic musical is a treat."

Large set pieces, such as oversized statues, are on display. And there are numerous special effects, especially startling pyrotechnics that display very intense shooting flames at times, amplifying the drama that unfolds. 

Fog and strobe effects are also used to embellish the spooky atmosphere and are evident during the gondola scene in the labyrinth and the cemetery. When do you ever see a cemetery scene that doesn’t include fog?  In fact, there was so much fog downstage that it envelops and virtually swallows up the orchestra leader in the pit, Jamie Johns, who carries on his extraordinary work oblivious to this effect.

Under the musical supervision of John Rigby, Mr. Johns directs Lloyd Webber’s superbly melodic score with excellent balance and proper restraint so that the vocals can rise above the background. When needed, the volume is turned up considerably for dramatic effect.

Paule Constable’s effective lighting creates the right atmospheric moods and furthers the thrilling moments as does Mick Potter’s sound design, which is especially effective during off-stage commentary from The Phantom.  

Costume Designer Maria Björnson brings 19th century French attire to the company with a wide range of dazzling costumes.  The exquisite costumes in the opera scenes and masquerade sequence are manifestations of Ms. Björnson’s great work.

Masquerade scene Photo: Alastair Muir
As the title character, Derrick Davis is more than up to the task.  Called upon to perform challenging and strenuous songs, Mr. Davis excels. His acting abilities are clearly on display as the obsessed villain in the plot with his powerful dialogue and solid movements on the stage. Mr. Davis’ performances of such numbers as “Music of the Night” and the reprise of “All I Ask of You” are delivered with flair and passion while showcasing his strong tenor voice.  

Emma Grimsley as Christine also acts proficiently, and her sweet soprano vocals shine throughout. “Think of Me,”  “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” and her performances in “The Music of the Night” are notable.  In the latter, Ms. Grimsley ably hits the highest register. The magnificent duet with Mr. Davis in the powerful “The Phantom of the Opera” is a show-stopper.

As Raoul, handsome Jordan Craig adeptly demonstrates his desire for Christine with his acting prowess and through song. Though I find his voice a bit nasal in tone, he performs well in duets with Ms. Davis, “Why Have You Brought Me Here?/Raoul, I’ve Been There” and “All I Ask of You.”  

Trista Muldovan as the diva Carlotta Giudicelli whom Christine replaced in the opera; David Benoit as Monsieur Firmin and Rob Lindley as Monsieur Firmin, the managers of the Paris Opera House; and Sarahgrace Mariani as Christine’s friend Meg Giry also turn in sturdy performances.  Ms. Muldovan lovely voice sparkles in “Think of Me” with Mr. Davis and Ms. Grimsley and “Poor Fool, He Makes Me Laugh.”

The entire company is first-rate and energetic. Under the choreography of Scott Ambler, the ensemble’s magnificently costumed presentation of “Masquerade/Why So Silent” is a standout, and their performances in the opera scenes also hit the mark.

Phantom’s powerful visit to Baltimore is a welcome one in which great music, staging and performances do justice to the classic original that will play on with no end in sight.  The production at the Hippodrome is highly recommended for all audiences and just in time to get into the Halloween mood.

Running time. Two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.

The Phantom of the Opera runs through October 20 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, visit Ticketmaster.com, BaltimoreHippodrome.com, call 800-982-ARTS, or visit the Hippodrome Box Office located at 12 N Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

In Defense of Kershaw

There was plenty of blame to go around in yet another Dodgers elimination.

Photo: Star Tribune
Following the Washington Nationals’ stunning comeback victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the final game of the best-of-five National League Divisional Series, the blame game ensued in full earnest.  Much of the blame by annually disappointed Dodger fans and media has been directed towards manager Dave Roberts but the remainder appears to be aimed at future Hall of Fame pitcher Clayton Kershaw.

Indeed, Kershaw whose performances in post-season are far less successful than his regular season stats (he has a 2.44 ERA during his career, but in 158 ⅓ career postseason innings, he has a 4.33 ERA), served up back-to-back home runs in the 8th inning that nullified Walker Buehler’s scintillating effort after he came in to relieve. Kershaw dispatched Adam Eaton on 3 pitches to end the rally in the 7th inning only to return in the 8th.

On the second pitch to Anthony Rendon, a notorious low ball hitter, Kershaw threw a slider down at the knees—a good pitch to a more mortal batter—and Rendon, in his walk year, reached down and yanked the ball over the left field wall.  The next pitch was a cookie slider to Juan Soto, 20, a budding super star in the league, crushed it 449 feet in the right center pavilion to tie the game.

So, based on Kershaw’s mediocre record in post-season games, the finger pointing headed Kershaw’s way—an inescapable occurrence that Kershaw acknowledged.

“When you don’t win the last game of the season and you’re to blame for it, it’s not fun,’’ he said following the loss to the Washington Nationals. “…Yeah, it’s just a terrible feeling.’’

“There’s no excuses. Just didn’t make pitches,’’ Kershaw said and later added, “Everything people say is true right now, about the postseason. I understand that.’’

Those two pitches only tied the game at 3-3.  Why is he blamed for the loss?  The Dodgers had every opportunity to break the tie in the bottom of the 8th and 9th innings but failed to do so. In the 10th the underappreciated Nationals, with their own post-season miseries until this year, had shocked the baseball world with veteran Howie Kendrick blasting a grand slam over the center field fence to give the Nats a 7-3 lead, which held up for the win.

Davey Martinez, the Nats manager, always said as most managers do, that it takes 25 players to contribute to team’s success. It’s not about one guy or two guys. Everyone has a role to play and they all need to step up.
Howie Kendrick blasts game winning grand slam.
Photo: Los Angeles Daily News

Clayton Kershaw is only one of the Dodgers’ 25 man roster. He’s getting the blame for allowing the game to be tied but some of the other players need to be called out. 

For one thing, Joe Kelly loaded the bases in the 10th including a dubious intentional base on balls then delivered the game winning gopher ball to Kendrick.   MVP candidate Cody Bellinger batted .211 in the series with zero RBIs. AJ Pollack went 0-13 with 11 strikeouts, an amazingly horrendous performance. Corey Seager batted .150.  Rookie catcher Will Smith hit .077. Chris Taylor .125…I can go on. Except for the outlier game, a 10-4 thrashing of the Nats in Nationals Park in Game 3, the Dodgers were extremely feeble with men in scoring position.

Roberts, for his part, is getting eviscerated in the press and on social media for his in-game decision making. Much of the second guessing regarding the usage or lack thereof of the bullpen is legitimate.  In addition, I found two instances whereby he blew it and I said so prior to the consequences from those decisions.

The first is not having veteran catcher Russell Martin start in this key game when he was so potent in Game 3.  The other was giving the intentional pass to Soto in the 10th.  Left-handed specialist Adam Kolarek should have faced Soto again as the young phenom had been 0-3 against him in the playoffs. If successful, Roberts could then choose to intentionally walk Kendrick setting up a double play possibility with Kenley Jansen coming in to face a DP-prone Ryan Zimmerman.

Regardless of the second guessing and finger pointing, there was a ton of blame to go around, but Clayton Kershaw cannot and should not be considered the reason the Dodgers lost.

Baseball is a team sport.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

The Pressure is More on the Dodgers in Game 5

Any elimination game in a playoff series regardless of the sport is a pressure cooker for sure.  The 2019 NLDS is no exception as both the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers face different types of pressure in the win-or-go-home scenario.

The final game of the best of 5 series on October 11 will feature two of the league’s most formidable starting pitchers: seasoned veteran Stephen Strasburg of the Nats, who was lights out in game 2 winning 4-2 to even the series in LA, and young Walker Buehler, who was even more dominating in a 6-0 blanking, yielding only 1 hit in 6 innings in the opener, will face off in what should be a tension-packed, epochal finale.

For the Nationals, they are seeking to escape the NLDS for the first time in five tries. The team has failed in previous attempts despite their gaudy records during the regular season. 

Three of the four eliminations occurred on their home field as the dismayed and disappointed fans endured the inglorious experience of watching the opposition (Cardinals, Dodgers and Cubs in 2012, 2016 and 2017, respectively) celebrating on the infield at Nationals Park.

There is added pressure to finally move on to the League Champion Series and beyond as the Nats are facing a future that will likely not include free agent star 3rd baseman Anthony Rendon and maybe Ryan Zimmerman—the  original Nat and considered the face of the franchise—among others who will probably depart.

The Dodgers have a different story and have felt the mounting pressure to win.  They have not won a World Series since the Kirk Gibson-Orel Hershiser-Mickey Hatcher phenomenon in 1988. Dozens of playoff games had ensued during these three decades including two World Series appearances (2017 and 2018) without a ring despite the team’s high payroll for many of those seasons.

In the World Series elimination games, both at Dodger Stadium, the opposition scored early that succeeded in deflating the crowd’s energy, and both the Astros and Red Sox never looked back. 

Angelinos were forced to witness the victors exchanging their uniform shirts and caps for World Champion t-shirts and caps right in front of them as the Dodgers despondently meandered to the clubhouse from the third base dugout.

The feeling in LA, as I have read, is this better not happen again this year.  Holding a 2-1 advantage, the Dodgers had the chance to put the Nats and their rightfully maligned bullpen away. But fiercely competitive Max Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young award winner, would have none of it. And Zimmerman, perhaps playing his final home game as a National, struck the decisive blow in a 6-1 Nats victory, forcing game 5.

The Nats Stephen Strasburg will try to help advance the team
to the next round
The Dodgers are the better team with a deeper bench and jaw-dropping defensive versatility. Their 106-56 record in the regular season attests to their superiority as a club, and they ran away with the Western Division by a record 21 games. They possess strong starting pitching, a powerful line-up and more options in the bullpen than the Nats have. The Dodgers, an offensive juggernaut, broke a National League record for home runs in a season with 279.

The Nats, however, appear to be taking on the proverbial “team of destiny” mantle.  Starting the season 19-31, they managed to finish with a 92-69 record despite the worst bullpen in the league, closing with an 8-game winning streak that grew to 9 after the amazing, improbable comeback victory over the Brewers in the Wild Card game.

Their good fortune surfaced again in game 4 of the current series as a gust of wind intercepted a Max Muncy deep drive to center in mid-air and was caught easily instead of leaving the park. And later in the game with the bases loaded, Joc Peterson’s smash down the right field line was foul by an inch. Had the ball been fair, the hit would have cleared the bases and changed the complexion of the game in a major way.

So it comes down to what should be an exciting game 5 on Wednesday. The Dodgers’ longer history of not capturing the title puts them in a position where the pressure will be intense. The Nats feel the pressure, too, but in a different way.  Playing at home, the Dodgers will feel it more.

One thing is for sure: one of these teams will be celebrating on the infield and donning NLDS championship shirts and caps and popping champagne in the clubhouse and will move on to the next round.  The other will ponder what might have been and go home to face the media and a disappointed fan base yet again.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Nationals 'Managed' Historic Win in Wild Card

The Washington Nationals celebrate following 4-3 win over Brewers

There’s an old adage in baseball: managers can’t win games; they can only lose them. In the case of second year manager of the Washington Nationals, Davey Martinez, he proved clearly in the Wild Card game of this improbable major league baseball season that managers can, in fact, win games. It was the first time in the Nats history since they moved to Washington from Montreal in 2005 that they ever advanced in the postseason  

It is rare to see a situation whereby a manager can push all the right buttons at the right time.  Yet, in the National League Wild Card game on October 1 before an uncharacteristically raucous crowd at Nationals Park in which the home team came from behind to defeat the Milwaukee Brewers, 4-3, Martinez did just that.

The magic that Martinez demonstrated actually began in late May when the Nats sunk to 12 games under .500 through the first 50 games—nearly a third of the season had transpired. He faced severe criticism from fans on social media and in the press for his managing of a frustratingly incompetent bullpen in which viable options were scarce.

Undaunted he guided the team—a blend of veterans and young players including 20 year-old phenom Juan Soto and eventual hero of the Wild Card game—to finish second in the Eastern Division and not only sealed a Wild Card berth but secured home field for the do or die game. The team finished the season with a flourish winning their last 8 games.  The victory in the Wild Card extended that streak.

Martinez skillfully crafted the 25-player roster for this game envisioning all the likely scenarios in a win or go home proposition.  He kept more bench players than usual to insert them in key spots, such as pinch running, pinch hitting or defensive replacements while paring the usual bullpen contingent in favor of as many as three starting pitchers that may be needed in relief.  There was no margin for error.

He assembled a batting order that was the best he could have used. Martinez opted to play Howie
Nationals manager Davey Martinez could not have done better.
Kendrick, a consistent hitter all season long in favor of Ryan Zimmerman, the longest-tenured National. Starting Zimmerman would have been a sentimental choice given the first baseman’s iconic position with the team. But Kendrick, who batted .344 during the season, was the correct pick.

For his part, Zimmerman would come off the bench when the situation warranted.  In a couple of spots Zimmerman was slated to pinch hit, but Martinez pulled him back in favor of other batters. In the eighth inning when the Nats rallied for 3 runs to take the lead, Zimmerman finally had his chance, and he came through with a broken bat single to center that kept the winning rally going.

As it turned out, all three pinch hitters selected by Martinez reached base safely and the one pinch runner he inserted scored.  You can’t do any better than that.

The pitching side of the ledger was also well-managed by Martinez. Starting the fiercely competitive Max Scherzer was the correct decision despite the right hander’s rather unsuccessful past post-seasons and a troublesome injury he endured a couple of months ago. Yet, Martinez was not about to allow Scherzer, who served up two home runs for the Brewers 3-0 early lead,  to stay in the game past the fifth inning (there is nothing to suggest that Scherzer protested his removal but Max never wants to leave a game he starts).

Instead, Martinez gave the ball to Cy Young candidate Stephen Strasburg, who completed three scoreless innings in smooth fashion and ultimately was credited with the win.

Juan Soto striking the decisive hit in the 8th inning
The ninth inning save opportunity was afforded Daniel Hudson, a trading deadline acquisition who was arguably the most consistent reliever on the staff, to seal the deal. The manager could have easily gone to southpaw starter Patrick Corbin but decided (again correctly) to allow Hudson to close out the game thereby saving Corbin for the opener in Los Angeles.

Another option was the heretofore regular Nats closer Sean Doolittle, but his performance has been erratic, and his recent injury appears to have had an effect on him. With no margin of error   Martinez made the right move one more time.

It is unclear how the Nats will fare against the powerful Dodgers in the Divisional Series as that team has one of the most potent line-ups in baseball and three previous and potential Cy Young starters taking the hill. But one thing is for sure, the Washington Nationals appear to have one heck of a manager to guide them through what comes next.