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Martinez planted seeds that grew into Series title

HOUSTON — So when did the Washington Nationals win the World Series, the first one in franchise history and the first one Washington has celebrated in 95 years?

Was it Wednesday night on the field at Minute Maid Park in Houston when Anthony Rendon blasted a solo home run to lead off the seventh inning against Astros starter Zack Greinke, who had locked down the Washington offense to that point?

Was it two batters later, after Juan Soto walked, when Howie Kendrick drove an opposite field home run that bounced off the foul pole off Houston reliever Will Harris, giving and the Nationals a 3-2 lead, on their way to a 6-2 clinching win over the heavily-favored Astros?

Or the first day manager Dave Martinez stepped on the field in spring training in West Palm Beach in 2018 and established the Circle of Trust?

Roll your eyes, if you will. Many of us did when Martinez told us about the Circle of Trust. It seemed like another gimmick, along with the camels he brought in to illustrate how the Nationals, after four tries and failures of getting out of the division round of the playoffs, were going to finally get over the hump.

But the badge of resiliency the Nationals wore throughout their comeback season didn’t just happen. The seeds that Martinez planted that day in West Palm Beach grew. They held firm when the team struggled last year, but still finished strong. They held up to the test they faced early in 2019 when it seemed like the Nationals were on the verge of collapse.

And they were strong Wednesday night in Game 7 when starter Max Scherzer did not have his best stuff and Greinke was on cruise control with a 2-0 lead going into the seventh inning – until the Washington offense broke through.

There was faith in that Nationals dugout during that seventh game. And there was faith in that Nationals clubhouse when the season was on life support. This group of players never stopped believing in themselves, even when everyone else had seemed to give up on them, because their manager never stopped believing in them.

The Circle of Trust was never broken.

“It’s all about communication, culture and competing every day,” Martinez told reporters when he began the Circle of Trust that day in spring training.

Then he spoke of distant dreams, cruel expectations, and the greatest victory.

“Like I said before, we’re here to play in the last game of the World Series and win,” Martinez said. “That’s going to be the message we send, and they get it.”

He sent it. They got it. Consider it delivered to the world Wednesday night in Houston.

The Circle of Trust turned out to be far more than new-age babble. It was life inside the Nationals clubhouse every day. Martinez preached it, and then he practiced it.

“When I had a meeting with our coaches, my big thing with them was there is no negativity,” he said after that first Circle of Trust meeting on the field at their spring training complex — you know, the one they share with the Astros. “I don’t care what a guy can’t do. Tell me what a guy can do and let’s make the best of that. If we can do that, all the perceived things he can’t do seem to go away.”

There was never a moment of negativity that surfaced publicly when the Nationals seemed ready to go under in the first seven weeks of the season. Martinez never wavered from his positive message. When players saw that he was consistent and honest with them — trustworthy — they rallied around their manager.

“Give credit to Davey,” said pitcher Patrick Corbin — who had three innings of shutout relief in Wednesday night’s clinching victory — when they celebrated clinching a wild card berth in the playoffs. “He believed in us.”

No one seemed to love the Circle of Trust more than Stephen Strasburg. He referred to it a number of times, telling those of us who would sometimes poke and prod to get deeper into the Nationals clubhouse culture that “you have to be in the circle.”

You listen to Strasburg, who saved the Nationals World Series quest with his standout Game 6 win Tuesday night when his team was on the verge of elimination, down 3-2 to the Astros in this best-of-seven series, and he often refers to the trust inside that clubhouse — the circle.

“We have a lot of fun playing together, we have a lot of fun winning together, and we just want to keep that going,” Strasburg said before taking the mound against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, which would turn out to be an 8-1 win. He went on to refer to his teammates as “a tight knit group of guys, and we talk about family a lot.”

That family lived inside the Circle of Trust, which was completed Wednesday night in Houston with the World Series trophy, like Dave Martinez said it would be.

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