There are nights, like this, when you are reminded the Nationals indeed are capable of playing good baseball. They can get a dominant outing from one of their elite starters, and they can reward him for the effort by stringing together big hits in multiple innings, making all the plays they need to make behind him and then closing things out sans bullpen drama.
The Nationals couldn’t have drawn up a much better formula for success than they did tonight during a 5-1 victory over the Mets.
“It was just a fun, crispy day,” manager Davey Martinez said of the 2-hour, 28-minute affair.
Now, if they can only figure out how to do it again tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that.
“You know what? It’s great for tonight,” infielder Howie Kendrick said. “But we got to do it consistently.”
Yes, they do. But one step at a time. The Nats will just be content with a well played game tonight and a win, due primarily to Patrick Corbin’s dominance on the mound.
Corbin went eight strong innings, striking out 11 while allowing only five New York batters to reach base and putting on a clinic before an appreciative crowd of 29,673.
The performance lowered Corbin’s ERA to 2.91, one of the brightest spots during a mostly dark first quarter of the season for a Nationals franchise that certainly doesn’t regret the $140 million it paid to lure the left-hander here over the winter.
“I’ve been on the other side of it, too,” said Kendrick, who is 7-for-22 in his career against Corbin. “He knows how to pitch, especially when he’s getting ahead of guys and he can do whatever he wants after that.”
Of course, it helps when Corbin’s teammates support him like they did tonight.
It had been six days since the Nationals took a first-inning lead, and wouldn’t you know that was the last time Corbin pitched? On that overcast evening at Dodger Stadium, the Nats staked the lefty to a 3-0 lead before he took the mound, with Kendrick driving all three runs home with one big blast.
This time, Corbin set the tone by striking out the side in the top of the first, all three Ks coming on sliders. Then the top of the Nationals lineup put its collective forces together to plate three runs.
Adam Eaton worked the count full and drew a leadoff walk to get things started. Victor Robles then perfectly placed a push bunt past the right side of the pitcher’s mound for a single, setting the table for the big boys behind him in the lineup.
Anthony Rendon drilled a double to deep center to get one run home. Juan Soto followed with an RBI groundout. And Kendrick, back in the lineup for the first time since Friday, ripped another single up the middle to make it 3-0.
“When you go out there the top of the first, and you put runs up early, everybody loosens up,” Martinez said. “We talk about it all the time: ‘Hey, let’s score first. Score first. Even if it’s just a run, you know? Just get on top early, and we will go from there.’ We did that today. Everyone was relaxed.”
The Nationals also hadn’t scored in multiple innings in a game since that same Thursday night in Los Angeles. So it was fitting when they duplicated the feat tonight, by the third inning. Robles led things off with a drive to left-center for his team-leading eighth homer. Doubles by Rendon and Kendrick added the Nats’ fifth run of the evening and knocked Mets starter Wilmer Font from the game after a scant 2 1/3 innings.
“Tonight we had some clutch hits at some opportune times, and they fell our way, and that was the end result,” Robles said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “Things went our way this time, as opposed to early this season when things didn’t go our way.”
The 5-0 lead proved a nice cushion for Corbin, who didn’t need nearly that much tonight. The lefty was on point, especially with his trademark slider, which accounted for nine of his 11 strikeouts. Even when Mets hitters knew it was coming, they had no chance.
“I sit around often, and on the computer I can just kind of visualize standing up there as a hitter, and the break is so late,” Martinez said. “That’s what makes it so effective. Looks like a fastball coming in. It just drops.”
Even with the high strikeout total, Corbin maintained a low pitch count. And that allowed him to stay on the mound deep into this game, a welcome sight for the Nats bullpen and dugout.
Corbin’s only hiccup came in the top of the third, when a single, a walk and J.D. Davis’ RBI double plated the Mets’ first run. Other than that, the left-hander cruised. He completed the seventh inning at 92 pitches, giving him an opportunity to return to the mound for the eighth.
“You’re getting ahead of guys; a lot of them are starting 0-1,” Corbin said. “When I’m able to do that, you get them in swing mode, makes it a little more difficult on them.”
And when he managed to kick Davis’ comebacker right to the ground in front of him to set up an easy throw to first to end the eighth, Corbin had completed a much-needed, big-time start to give the Nationals a much-needed win on a night when they finally did everything well.
“Hit, pitch, play defense. I think we’ve been doing a little bit of everything, but at different times,” Kendrick said. “And now tonight, that’s what happens when it all comes together. Hopefully, we can consistently do that moving forward.”