“Ever since I had this little issue with my health, they took away my caffeine, which is not good right now, by the way,” said Martinez, who was rushed to the hospital after experiencing chest pain during a game in September.
“I’m still trying to figure it out. But I don’t seem that I have that constant, like, fiery edge. So I seem more laid-back.”
Dropping the five or six cups of coffee he had been drinking daily certainly explains some of that calm. But even without actual caffeine withdrawal, Martinez was always going to be a little more relaxed than Nationals managers usually are around this time of year.
By this time in 2015, his second year of managing the Nationals, Matt Williams had been fired. By this time in 2017, his second year of managing the Nationals, Dusty Baker had been told he wouldn’t be getting a new contract. For most of this decade, the Nationals have maintained a gravity-defying combination of relative success and complete managerial instability. And in the moment at which his predecessors were — fairly or not — updating their résumés, Martinez was flying home to Washington with a 2-0 lead in the World Series.
As adamant as his players and general manager were that Martinez’s job was safe late last year or in the darkest moments of this season, he was never a lock to make it this far. When the Nationals were well below .500 in May, just after a disappointing season in his rookie managerial campaign, some higher-ups wondered to others whether it was time to let Martinez go. Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo, who defended Martinez throughout the team’s 2018 struggles, continued to defend him. Martinez insisted he wasn’t worried. He reassured his players, who were inundated with the speculation. Martinez stayed, and he stayed steady. A few months later, he was sitting at a table in the Nationals Park news conference room, the leader of a team that has stunned the baseball world — the one who finally led the Nationals past their history of October horrors.
“What allows me to be me is the guys in that clubhouse, really. They pulled together all year,” Martinez said. “We had some adversity, but it built character. And they believe what we’re doing is the right thing, and they’re playing really well, and they’re all excited.”
What has made Martinez different, particularly as compared with those who came before him, is not necessarily what the Nationals thought would differentiate him. When they first hired Martinez, Rizzo and others touted his character and reputation as a good communicator but also his ability to serve as a bridge to a more new-school baseball approach than the ones provided by Williams and Baker. And while the Martinez-led Nationals have shifted more in the field and used starters out of the bullpen and tried hitting their pitcher eighth now and then, multiple team executives and players offer unsolicited praise of his handling of people: He doesn’t berate players. He doesn’t play mind games. He lets veterans lead how they see fit. He stays positive. He smiles. He cares.
“Dave, he’s special,” said Aníbal Sánchez, the Nationals’ Game 3 starter who has played for 10 different managers in his career. “He’s special.”
Sánchez and his manager were the only Nationals to talk to reporters Thursday. The team had a light workout on the field at Nationals Park in the early evening. A few pitchers played catch. Max Scherzer threw a side session.
The team arrived in D.C. on Thursday afternoon. During the regular season, teams fly from city to city after games because they don’t have the luxury of a day off between them. But instead of packing up and rushing off after Wednesday night’s win, the Nationals flew home Thursday. Trainers advised players would get better sleep if they didn’t have to land in the early morning hours, and that calculation alone serves as a reminder of how far this organization has come from the days before it overhauled its medical, training and nutritional staffs.
Jayson Werth was frustrated with the state of those operations when he arrived before the 2011 season. He pushed the organization to improve them, and eventually it did. But even as the team changed its player performance infrastructure, signed high-profile free agents and turned into a perennial contender — in other words, matured into a credible major league franchise — it could never find a manager who seemed to fit for long. Martinez is under contract through next season, and the team has an option for 2021.
When they hired Martinez, the Nationals hoped he could bridge the gap between the old, familiar Nationals and a slowly remolded roster built around newer, younger stars such as Juan Soto and Victor Robles. In 2019, he did just that.
Obviously, circumstances can change quickly. Martinez knows that, both because of the way his baseball fortunes flipped in a few months’ time and because of the health scare that forced him to kick the coffee habit.
But Martinez himself has changed little from the day he was introduced at Nationals Park to when he became the first Nationals manager to host a World Series news conference on his home turf Thursday afternoon. He is still positive. He still preaches taking things one day at a time. He still talks about his team as “the circle” and keeps a few closely guarded rituals from the uninitiated. He still rides his scooter to work whenever he can. Martinez hasn’t changed the way he approaches baseball, his team or people as he has suddenly become the most successful postseason manager in franchise history. But people are changing the way they approach him.
“As you know, I travel by scooter everywhere around,” said Martinez, for whom the scooter has been a staple since his first spring training, when Gio Gonzalez gave him a particularly well-furnished one with a built-in speaker.
“Before, I used to wear my hat and nobody really . . .”
He trailed off.
“Now, wherever I stop — as a matter of fact, sometimes people just come up and smack me on the back. ‘Nice going. Nice going, Davey.’ ”
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