Anthony Rendon’s walk-off hit reminds rebuilding Nationals what they’re missing

There is a reasonable argument to be made that losing out on Anthony Rendon three offseasons ago for the most part has been a positive for the Washington Nationals.

Rendon, who chose to sign a $245 million contract with the Angels instead of remaining in D.C., hasn’t lived up to the contract yet, hitting just .252 with Los Angeles as he’s dealt with multiple injuries.

But on Sunday, for the first time since Rendon and the Nationals parted ways after winning a World Series together, the third baseman showed the rebuilding organization what it’s missing with his walk-off single that sealed a 5-4 win over his old club. 

“It’s always strange seeing guys in different uniforms, especially ones that have such a special place in your heart, for sure,” Nationals starting pitcher Erick Fedde said, per MASN. “It’s tough when he has the game-winning hit, but he’s a great player, and sometimes that’s going to happen.”

The line drive to center field, which scored Shohei Ohtani just before Victor Robles’ throw reached home plate, is one of the few bright spots of Rendon’s time in Los Angeles. After a solid 2020 campaign that was shortened due to COVID-19, he had arguably his worst major-league season last year. Rendon hit a career-low .240 with just six home runs in 58 games before his season-ending hip surgery.

This season has started much like last year, as the 31-year-old is hitting just .213 with three home runs in 26 games for the AL West-leading Angels (19-11).

“I’ll hit .200 as long as we keep winning games,” Rendon said after the win Sunday, according to MASN. “Yeah, it sucks. It’s frustrating, but I mean, not many people get to feel what we felt when we won the World Series and to be the last team standing. That means a lot more than any personal accomplishment that we can do. It’s a team game. It’s not like playing golf.”

Overall, in 136 games with the Angels over the past two-plus seasons, Rendon is slashing .252/.363/.422 — a far cry from the .290/.369/.490 line he posted in 916 games across seven years with the Nationals. In D.C., Rendon was one of the best players in baseball. From 2014 to 2019, he averaged 5.0 wins above replacement per season, received NL MVP votes four times and won two Silver Slugger Awards. 

His final year with Washington was his best, as the former first-round pick led the National League with 44 doubles and 126 RBIs on top of hitting .319 and smashing 34 home runs. He finished third in NL MVP voting that season and helped lead the Nationals to their first World Series title, hitting .327 with three homers and 15 RBIs in the postseason. 

The Nationals offered Rendon several contracts during the 2019 season, including an offer between $210 and $215 million. But Rendon was reportedly uncomfortable with the amount of deferred money in the deal —a tactic used by the Nationals often in recent years — and chose the $35 million per year the Angels offered. 

The interleague series this past weekend was the first between the two clubs since Rendon signed in Los Angeles. Washington manager Dave Martinez told reporters before the series began that seeing Rendon, as well as Angels catcher Kurt Suzuki who played for the Nationals in 2019 and 2020, would “bring back some flashbacks” of the World Series run. 

“It’s going to be good to see Anthony and Suzuki. As you know, we built a special bond together,” Martinez said. “To go through what we did and do what we did and come out on top the way we did, you build those relationships through the course of a year. To complete a season the way we did in 2019, those are the memories that will never go away.”

The loss on Sunday wrapped up the series — the Angels took two of three — and a nine-game road trip for the Nationals (10-20).

Despite hitting .328 as a team and scoring 6.4 runs per game out west, the Nationals went just 4-5 against the Giants, Rockies and Angels. Leading the offensive surge, which followed a dreadful drought that saw the Nationals score just 16 runs in eight games, were Robles, third baseman Maikel Franco and left fielder Yadiel Hernandez. 

Robles started the road trip hot against the Giants (8-for-12, five RBIs) before cooling down last week. Franco, the former Phillies third baseman who struggled last season in Baltimore, is hitting .286 in his last seven games, and his 16 RBIs rank second on the team behind Josh Bell’s 21. And Hernandez, who started the season as a part-time player, became a near-everyday player during the road trip. The 34-year-old Cuban leads the club in both batting average (.365) and slugging percentage (.541). 

Washington is off Monday, but the team will return to Nationals Park for a three-game series against the Mets on Tuesday. 

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