SPOKANE, Wash. - The Washington Nationals are World Series champions for the first time thanks to help from an unsung hero - former Spokane Indians skipper Kevin Long. Despite entering the series as heavy underdogs and facing Houston's formidable troika of starting pitchers - Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and fellow Indians alum Zack Greinke - Washington's hitting coach was able to get the most out of the Nats' bats in key situations throughout the series, including tonight's memorable Game Seven showdown with the Astros. The Nationals' success at the plate in the playoffs was a reflection of Long's work with the team throughout the season, as Washington hitters finished with the best batting average (.265) and OBP (.342) in the National League.
"These guys mean so much to me," Long told the New York Post before the World Series. "They are so much a part of my family, and the time and effort they have put in from Day 1 and to see a lot of the fruits for a lot of the layout, it's a really good feeling. They just never quit."
Howie Kendrick, who delivered the key blow in Game 7 with a two-run homer in the seventh inning, credits Long with his success at the plate this season. "Making adjustments, I would say, is the biggest thing. Trying to be more efficient with my body and my swing. Kevin Long is a big part of that," said Kendricks in an interview with the Post. "It's funny because the first time we met, I said to him, 'Hey, what can I do to get better?' He had a list, like he had wrote down on a pad of paper. I wasn't expecting it. This was the first time I had ever hit with him. He had this sheet of paper. He goes, 'Alright, this is what I know about you. This is what you hit with this, this, and this.'"
Long is now a two-time World Series champion, having previously won with the New York Yankees as their hitting coach in 2009. The 52-year-old spent eight seasons as a player in the minor leagues before becoming a manager in the Royals system in 1998 with the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Long then took over as skipper in Spokane in 1999, leading the Indians to a 44-32 regular season record before capturing the Northwest League title with a roster that featured future major leaguers Mark Ellis, Kevin Harvey and Mike McDougal. Despite his success at the helm with the Indians, Long transitioned to a hitting coach in the minors the following season, eventually reaching the bigs with the Yankees in 2007. He stayed in that role until 2014 when he took over as the hitting coach for the Mets from 2015-17, before joining the Nationals last season.
Last year's World Series saw three former Indians (Ian Kinsler, Mitch Moreland and Craig Bjornson) win baseball's ultimate prize with the Boston Red Sox while another trio (Carlos Beltran, Bjornson and Pettis) took home the title 2017 with the Astros. The 2016 Cubs finally broke their 108-year curse thanks to a pair of Indians alums (Kyle Hendricks and Carl Edwards Jr. ). In 2015, Ned Yost ('78) led the Kansas City Royals to a World Series title, following fellow Indians alum Bruce Bochy ('89) with the San Francisco Giants in 2014. The Red Sox in 2013 are the last World Series winner to not feature a former Spokane Indian on the roster or coaching staff.
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