With pennant in grasp, Nats turn to Corbin to keep it rolling

Yes, Patrick Corbin signed with the Nationals last winter because they offered him more years and more dollars than any of the other contenders for the free agent's services. But he also came to Washington because of what he knew he could be a part of: A rotation that would rival any other in baseball, and a team that expected to play in October.

All of that stood out to Corbin, who after coming through the Angels' farm system and then pitching six years in the majors for a Diamondbacks team that made only one brief postseason appearance during his tenure just wanted an opportunity to take the mound for really meaningful games for a franchise with lofty aspirations.

"I was fortunate to have a lot of great opportunities this offseason," the left-hander said Dec. 7 during a press conference attended by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman and Yan Gomes. "And I just feel like this is the best fit for myself and Jen and my family, to be able to come in here and compete for a championship and be a part of something special."

Tonight, Corbin will take the mound at Nationals Park, a sellout crowd roaring with approval for his every move, and attempt to do something really, really special.

With a chance to sweep the Cardinals in a National League Championship Series that has proven far more lopsided than anyone could have imagined, the Nationals will give the ball to their $140 million southpaw and ask him to deliver the franchise's first pennant.

Corbin-Deals-vs-COL-White-Stars-Stripes-Sidebar.jpg"I remember sitting in this room with those guys right up here in front," he said Monday. "And that was definitely a big reason to be part of a rotation like that."

The Nationals have reached the precipice of history, thanks to one of the finest October rotation performances this sport has seen in some time. Scherzer, Strasburg and Aníbal Sánchez have combined so far in this series to allow one unearned run and nine hits in 21 2/3 innings, striking out 28 while walking three.

Now it's Corbin's turn to keep this remarkable run going.

"That's what our team is built around," Zimmerman said. "Those guys, those horses that take the ball every fifth day, they haven't disappointed in the postseason. They've been the backbone of this team all year. We've asked them to do some pretty ... I don't even know how to explain it ... some things they don't really do with pitchers anymore. And every time we've asked them, they've grabbed the ball, gone out there and done it. Those guys are unbelievable."

All three of the starters have pitched in relief at some point during this postseason, Corbin three times. He'll return to his regular role tonight and attempt to duplicate what each of his rotation mates has already done in the series: Complete at least seven innings.

That's been the Nationals' tried-and-true formula for success so far in the postseason, allowing manager Davey Martinez to bypass the suspect middle portion of his bullpen and turn directly to Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson to finish what the starters began.

And it should be no different tonight, with the stakes reaching an all-time high.

This is uncharted territory for the Nationals and their fans, who had never so much as experienced a home NLCS game before Monday night and now are about to experience a potential pennant-clincher before their own eyes.

If the scene before, during and after Game 3 is any indication, it's going to be unlike anything this town has ever experienced.

"They've been nothing short of amazing during this playoff experience," third baseman Anthony Rendon said of Nationals fans. "Hopefully, we can continue to have them show up more and more. So maybe there's standing room only. Just let them in. The more, the merrier."

All the heartache of this club's first postseason appearance in 2012, all the agony of their subsequent first-round exits in 2014, 2016 and 2017, all the disappointment of recent seasons that ended in September, all of that is about to be thrown out the window.

One more victory, and this will no longer be the franchise that couldn't win the big one, that crumbled under the pressure of October baseball.

No, one more victory and the Nationals will forever alter the landscape of baseball in this town.

"We've done nothing yet," Zimmerman said, trying to downplay what everyone else is already preparing for. "I don't think there's anything to celebrate. Obviously, there's things to be proud of. But I think what we've done all year is just concentrate on the game that day. We had to start doing that in June. It was either that or basically start making offseason plans. So we had to embrace that mindset early on, and we've just kept it rolling."

If they can just keep it rolling one more time, they're going to roll right into the Fall Classic.

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