Emotional Corbin wears No. 45 for Skaggs 

Starter delivers a gutsy performance in honor of his late friend

July 3rd, 2019

WASHINGTON -- and Tyler Skaggs were both drafted by the Angels in June 2009, one round and 40 picks apart from one another. They were traded to Arizona together in July ’10 and each made his big league debut with the D-backs in ’12. Even after Skaggs was traded back to the Halos, the two remained close. When Corbin got married in November, Skaggs was in the wedding.

It made for an emotional 24 hours for Corbin following the sudden passing of Skaggs, who died Monday at age 27. But Corbin still wanted to pitch on Tuesday night at Nationals Park against the Marlins. At dinner the night before, he had the idea to honor his friend by exchanging his usual No. 46, the number he has worn for his entire career, for Skaggs’ jersey No. 45. The Nationals held a moment of silence before the game in memory of Skaggs, and Corbin paused his warmup pitches from the bullpen. And then he lost it.

“He’s just all I’m thinking about,” Corbin said as he fought back tears again following the Nationals' 3-2 victory.

Sometimes baseball can offer refuge from the emotions of real life. Corbin saw the Angels were playing Tuesday night, and he figured it was best for him to also go out there and pitch.

On the back of the pitcher’s mound before tossing his warmup pitches, Corbin drew the number 45 in the dirt. And he then proceeded to pay tribute to Skaggs with a stellar outing, twirling seven innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts.

“It’s one of those performances that we’re going to remember,” catcher Yan Gomes said. “He’s going to remember just because of how much motivation he had behind it. And I know Tyler would’ve been proud of him. And for what he did for his family today, it’s a really cool moment and it’s really heartfelt.”

That moment in the bullpen was the only time Corbin got emotional during the game. He held himself together on the mound and in the dugout, but Gomes could tell throughout the night that Corbin was not totally himself.

The Marlins ambushed Corbin for three consecutive hits to start the game, before he settled down and responded with back-to-back strikeouts of Brian Anderson and Starlin Castro. Corbin then induced a flyout from Neil Walker to escape the jam. Corbin scattered just three hits through the remainder of his outing and did not yield another run.

“For me, the first inning was going to be the toughest,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “Knowing him, I could see it a little bit in his face. Once he got through that inning, I thought he was going to be OK. I was more concerned about his mental state. This is his best friend. But he was tremendous.”

Corbin and Skaggs came from opposite sides of the country -- Corbin from New York and Skaggs from Southern California -- but their pro careers were intertwined from the beginning. In the 2009 Draft, after selecting Randal Grichuk and Mike Trout, the Angels took Skaggs out of Santa Monica High School with their third selection (No. 40 overall). They later grabbed Corbin from Chipola (Fla.) College in the second round (No. 80 overall).

A little more than a year later, on July 25, 2010, the Angels sent Corbin as part of a package to the D-backs in a deal for pitcher Dan Haren. They completed the trade a couple of weeks later by sending along Skaggs. Both southpaws debuted in Arizona in ’12 and spent time in the D-backs’ rotation for the next two seasons before Skaggs was traded back to the Halos following the ’13 season as part of a three-team deal also involving the White Sox.

They remained friends as Skaggs stayed in Los Angeles and Corbin blossomed in Arizona before signing with Washington as a free agent this past offseason.

Not even the one-hour, 16-minute rain delay that interrupted the bottom of the third inning could keep Corbin from returning to the mound. He barely threw while waiting out the rain. At some point during the delay, Gomes asked Corbin how long he thought the rain would continue. Corbin responded, “I’m fine, I’m staying in,” because he felt he couldn’t just throw three innings for his team.

With so much else weighing on his mind and the whirlwind of the past 24 hours, no one would have blamed Corbin. But he delivered, putting the Nationals in position to win the game on Trea Turner’s walk-off double in the ninth, with Gomes racing to the plate to score from first base.

“It’s been hard. Just been thinking of Tyler, his wife Carli, his family,” Corbin said before pausing. “You can’t believe he’s gone.

“I think when you have a loss, you want to keep things as normal as you can. And just try to go out there and do what you have to do.”