The Nationals lineup did its part, jumping out to an early lead with a first-inning barrage of hits. Patrick Corbin did his part, producing a rare quality start and departing in the seventh inning with his team ahead.
All that stood between Corbin and his long-anticipated first win of the season was a Nats bullpen that needed some reconfiguring on this night.
With Kyle Finnegan presumably unavailable after pitching back-to-back days, manager Davey Martinez made the aggressive move to put closer Tanner Rainey on the mound to face the heart of the Rockies’ lineup in the eighth inning. And after Rainey retired the side, it was veteran Steve Cishek entrusted with the ninth, his team’s lead having just been padded to four runs.
There was no save in the end, but Cishek did finish off a satisfying 7-3 victory for the Nationals that finally got Corbin in the win column for the first time in 10 tries this year.
"It was going to come," Martinez said. "And I told him: 'Don't fight it. Don't worry about the wins and losses. It's going to come. Just keep pitching, keep doing what you're doing.' And tonight was a perfect example. He went out there and pitched well, kept us in the game. We scored some runs, and he got his first one out of the way."
This wasn’t necessarily Corbin’s best start of a hugely disappointing 2021 season – he was charged with three runs over 6 1/3 innings – but it was effective. And because his teammates provided some support for a change, the left-hander was rewarded with a W.
"It's always good to get a win," he said. "It stinks that it's this late. I feel I've been throwing pretty well. But that's baseball. Sometimes it doesn't matter how you pitch, if their guy is out there throwing well. Obviously, it's good. I'm glad it's behind us."
Martinez did everything in his managerial power to help make it possible. He pulled Corbin with one on and one out in the seventh, the Nationals leading by two runs at the time, and asked Victor Arano to finish that inning. Arano did just that, inducing a double-play grounder after allowing an infield single.
Martinez then asked Rainey, who got the save in Wednesday’s win over the Dodgers, to take on the setup role for the night with Finnegan unavailable. And Rainey proceeded to retire Charlie Blackmon, C.J. Cron and Ryan McMahon in succession on 15 pitches.
A couple of insurance runs in the seventh and eighth innings provided some extra cushion for Cishek, who had little trouble in the top of the ninth, securing the Nats’ second straight win.
"I talked to Rainey before the game, gave him a heads-up that if the situation arises, he'll pitch that (portion of the lineup)," Martinez said. "And I thought we matched up really well with Cishek at the bottom."
The last time the Nationals faced Germán Márquez, only 23 days ago at Coors Field, they blasted the right-hander for seven runs over his final three innings. So when they dug in against Márquez again tonight, the positive memories of that game were fresh.
And then the Nats went to work and picked up right where they left off in Colorado. During a four-run bottom of the first, six of their first seven batters reached base. And the only one who didn’t (Juan Soto) lined out sharply to left field.
The Nationals got back-to-back-to-back RBI hits from Nelson Cruz (single), Josh Bell (first double since May 7) and Yadiel Hernandez (two-run double) and sent nine men to the plate before Márquez finally got out of the inning on his 31st pitch.
"It's huge," Bell said. "Especially going out there for Corbin. It seems like the last five starts, all he needed was run support, and we couldn't give it to him. Having a little bit of a threshold early, and then continuing to add on as the course of the game goes on, it definitely helps."
That early 4-0 lead didn’t entirely hold up for long, though, because the Rockies came right back and scored once in the second and twice more in the third off Corbin, getting an RBI single from José Iglesias, an RBI triple (with Soto struggling to corral the ball in the right field corner) from Blackmon and an RBI groundout from Cron.
Corbin would settle down after that, posting three more zeros despite a lack of assistance from his defense. The Nats were charged with only one error (Bell’s wide throw to second) but saw Soto and Dee Strange-Gordon fail to make plays that could’ve been made and nearly saw Hernandez lose a flyball in the twilight only to recover in time to make the catch.
His pitch count at a minimum, Corbin was given the opportunity to take the mound for the seventh inning, and when he retired Iglesias, he had completed 6 1/3 innings for only the second time this season. Coincidentally or not, both came against the Rockies.
That left Corbin in line to finally earn his first win of the season, a seemingly insignificant feat that wasn't at all insignificant to him or his teammates.
"It got to a point where we were like: When are we going to do this for him?" Bell said. "The last few starts, he's been lights-out. To finally get that monkey off the back ... hopefully we can continue to roll with him."
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