The Nationals dropped their first playoff game in their last nine - and first at home since Oct. 6 - in Friday night’s 4-1 setback to the American League champion Astros in Game 3 of the World Series.
Tonight they will hand the ball to Patrick Corbin, who finished off the Cardinals 7-4 on Oct. 15 and has already recorded three outs in Game 1 of this series.
Corbin said the 21 pitches he threw in Game 1 amounted to an in-game bullpen session and believes he is well-rested for this next challenge.
“This time worked out pretty well for us being able to throw Game 1 and then having three full days off,” Corbin said. “Being available for (Game) 2 but kind of worked out great not being able to get in there. I didn’t throw at all. So I was able to do my same routine, everything that I would have done, a little ways from my last start, too. Everything feels great, ready to go.”
Corbin has been able to pitch in a World Series game already. But is starting in the World Series a different deal? Will this affect his nerves more tonight, especially considering the Nats want to maintain their advantage and not let Houston tie up the best-of-seven series?
“These are games I want to pitch in,” Corbin said. “I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to go out there and help us win a ballgame. This is what you prepare for all offseason, to pitch in these games, and just to have the opportunity to go out there, give it my best.
“I’m looking forward to it. I’m going to try to keep everything the same. I’m sure I’ll be excited. But I’m really looking forward to it.”
The Nationals very much would like Corbin to repeat the performance he had in Game 1 were he put up a clean sixth inning after Max Scherzer had labored to finish five frames. In that inning, he shut out the Astros on one hit and struck out two.
For Corbin, it’s all about his patented slider. He threw three straight slider’s to strike out Carlos Correa to begin the inning. He threw two sliders to Yordan Alvarez, but Alvarez was able to get a hit to right field on his fourth pitch. In an eight-pitch battle against Martín Maldonado, Corbin threw four sliders. He struck out Maldonado on a 3-2 slider. And then versus Aledmys Díaz, Corbin got him to roll over to second base on the slider to end the frame. Two of the three offerings in that final at-bat were sliders.
Eleven of his 21 pitches in Game 1 were sliders. Eight of those 11 were for strikes.
“I think the most important thing for us is strike one,” said Martinez about his pitching staff prior to Game 3. “They get ahead of counts and they’re making their pitches. When you get ahead everybody knows, you get to two strikes, it’s tough to hit in this league. If they continue to work ahead we’ll be in good shape.”
And for the Nats to maintain control of this series they need to go back to what worked well in the beginning of the National League Championship Series: seven or eight innings from their starters to set the tone and allow their offense ample time to take the lead.
Corbin said the Nats starting staff has fed off each other’s success during this postseason run. Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Aníbal Sánchez and Corbin have established the “Big Four” this season. Sánchez did not have his best game Friday, so now it’s Corbin’s turn to get the unit back on track.
“Yeah, it’s great. We all root for each other,” Corbin said. “I feel like that’s something that’s not always easy. Guys might seem like it but we really do. We try to help each other, when we’re pitching or when we’re not pitching. And I think it’s pretty special to be on a team that does stuff like that.”