The Nationals advanced to the World Series on Tuesday night with a 7-4 victory and a sweep of the National League Championship Series over the Cardinals. They punched their ticket to the Fall Classic with a big first inning, solid pitching from Patrick Corbin and four impressive shutout innings from their bullpen.
Tanner Rainey relieved Corbin in the sixth and delivered a clean inning with a strikeout.
Sean Doolittle came in for the seventh and even notched two more outs in the eighth.
And Daniel Hudson escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth and then put together a 1-2-3 ninth to send the Nats to their first World Series.
“The boys did well,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez. “Patrick got out of some jams, and then our bullpen. I can’t say enough about Rainey, Doo, Huddy (and) what they did today. Huge game for the both of them, but they’ve done that through this whole playoffs.”
Hudson’s task became the most difficult. With two outs in the eighth, Doolittle allowed a hit to Marcell Ozuna. Hudson took over and hit Yadier Molina with a pitch. With the Nats leading 7-4, suddenly the Cardinals had two men on base. Hudson then walked Paul DeJong. The base were loaded as pinch-hitter Matt Carpenter stepped in.
Hudson fed him six straight four-seam fastballs and finally induced a groundout to Brian Dozier at second base. Dozier bobbled the ball momentarily, but finished the play. Hudson had finished the eighth. He came on in the ninth and closed out the game.
“Obviously walking a tightrope like that is never a lot of fun,” Hudson said. “I made it a little bit harder than I needed to. But you just try to reset. You know you’ve got to get three outs in the ninth. And I think the break actually kind of helped my adrenaline a little bit, and kind of calmed me down.”
Hudson detailed his time of rest between the eighth and ninth innings, knowing Martinez was going to call on him again to attempt at ending the series.
“I went and sat on the bench, got some water and kind of got that whole inning out of my head,” he said. “Pump the strike zone. We’re up three. If I give up a solo homer, so what? It’s one of those things where you’ve just got to wipe it and go get three more outs.”
In the NLCS, the bullpen tossed 9 1/3 innings, allowing one earned run, with three hits, one walk and eight strikeouts for a 0.96 ERA.
In the postseason as a whole, the bullpen has recorded a 4.76 ERA. But if you take out Hunter Strickland, Corbin and Wander Suero, others posted some solid numbers. Hudson, Fernando Rodney, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg did not allow a run. Rainey finished with a 4.50 ERA and Doolittle at 2.45.
Now the 4.76 ERA doesn’t have anybody dancing in the streets, but compared to the regular season ERA of 5.66 by their relievers - last in the NL - this is a pretty good number. Especially considering the competition.
“It was awesome to watch those guys do what they did last few innings,” Martinez said. “I was so proud of those guys, and said this all along, I’ve asked these guys to do things that they probably didn’t think they could do. Doolittle going out there and getting five outs today. Huddy doing the same thing. Rainey putting them in big moments when everybody thought this guy’s wild (and) he walks everybody, and giving him the ball. He’s matured so much this year that he’s one of the guys. I mean, he’s got electric stuff. I’m very confident in putting him in the game.”
Back in May with a different link to the bullpen, the team struggled. Mike Rizzo made the call to bring in Hudson, Strickland and Roenis Elías.
After all the work over the past few months, Hudson stepped to the forefront and delivered the biggest outs to date for the franchise: a ticket to the World Series, beginning Tuesday night in either Houston or New York.
“I’m proud of those guys, but for me, the big thing is they bought in,” Martinez said of his reworked and rejuvenated pen. “I’ve asked them to do these things, and they didn’t hesitate to say, ‘Hey, whatever you need from me, I’ll do the best I can. I’ll do it.’ That’s the big part of it. They bought in, and they were ready to go. They knew what the moment was like, and they stayed in it.”