'It just worked' for Corbin, Nats' maligned 'pen

Washington relievers get outs when they matter most on way to title

October 31st, 2019

HOUSTON -- When the Nationals initially approached at the beginning of October about being available in the bullpen, it did not take much convincing. Sure, he was willing to take the ball in relief during the National League Wild Card Game. A winner-take-all contest demanded everyone remain available. But somewhere along the line it transformed into more.

Corbin, who signed the richest contract for any free agent starting pitcher last offseason, provided a necessary boost to a much maligned bullpen this month, helping transform that group into a strength on the biggest stage and helping guide the Nationals to a World Series championship. He appeared out of the bullpen more times (five) than he took the mound to start (three), making him the first pitcher in MLB history to make five relief appearances and three starts in a postseason, including three scoreless innings to help seal a 6-2 victory in Game 7 on Wednesday at Minute Maid Park .

“I had no idea, that wasn't a plan. That's how it happened,” Corbin said. “I wanted to be available for games when I could to help them out. I don't know. It just worked out.”

At the start of this postseason, the Nationals' bullpen was such a glaring weakness that it threatened to ultimately derail their run from the start. Yet, this Nats bullpen never blew a lead during the World Series. Meanwhile, in Game 7 it was the Astros’ bullpen that gave back the lead Zack Greinke had preserved and allowed the Nationals to tack on insurance runs to put the game out of reach.

Corbin, and became a trio manager Dave Martinez found he could lean on.

Doolittle found his groove late in the season and perfected it as the month went on, posting a 1.74 ERA in 10 1/3 innings this month across nine appearances with eight strikeouts and one walk. Hudson, who was left without a job in March, was the man the Nationals turned to to seal the final out on Wednesday, and he celebrated by throwing his glove at his teammates, who rushed the mound to pile on him.

Hudson gave up three earned runs during his appearance in Game 5 when the Nationals were already losing, but he was lights-outs aside from that outing, giving up just one earned run in his remaining eight innings with eight strikeouts and three walks.

And the Nationals received a boost from Corbin, who aside from one shaky appearance in Game 3 of the National League Division Series was excellent in relief. He did not allow a run in any of his next four appearances out of the ‘pen, and in the World Series he tossed four shutout innings with five strikeouts.

“I don’t think people realize, especially in the playoffs, how tough it is to turn the page,” Doolittle said. “He didn’t have that great of an outing when he pitched in relief against the Dodgers, I think that was Game 3 of the DS. But he’s been fearless coming out of the bullpen ever since. He’s asked for the ball. He’s asked for that opportunity. And that takes guts, man. We have so much respect for that.

“The guys in the bullpen have so much respect for that because we know what it’s like to have a tough one, and then you try and not let that self-doubt creep in. In the playoffs, there’s no soft landings.”

On the biggest stage when it mattered most, the Nationals' bullpen also did not require a soft landing. They protected leads when it mattered most and helped guide the Nationals to a championship.