WASHINGTON-- Holding a bottle of Bud Light in his left hand, the one which produced enough quality pitches for a $140 million contract, Patrick Corbin was a peripheral party participant.
He's generally quiet. When the All-Star break arrived, he and his wife, Jen, made initial plans to go to the Hamptons. They went to upstate New York instead. The couple stayed with Jen's parents because getting to the Hamptons seemed like a pain. Then he came back to work.
Asked during the post-Wild-Card Game celebrating how he would explain the team's run to someone from home who had not been watching, Corbin smiled.
"Who would that be?"
What's now pervasive well beyond the greater Syracuse area is the Nationals' weeks-long burn. They are 15-2 in their last seventeen games. The season reached the edge of extinction late in the Wild-Card Game, then again in Game 5 of the NLDS. The National League Championship Series is a romp thus far, and Corbin's chance to close it with a sweep comes Tuesday night in Nationals Park.
Washington, finally, is not playing from behind. No National League team has ever lost a seven-game series with a 3-0 lead. The Nationals even suddenly have a 50-50 shot of winning the World Series, according to projections at fivethirtyeight.com. Those odds will likely twist to favor the eventual American League champion, either New York or Houston. For now, the Nationals have the juice.
"I wouldn't say it's odd," Sean Doolittle said. "It feels nice. We're not taking anything for granted, but this is definitely a better position to be in than we were three games after the last series. I think it can be a situation where we can come and continue to play with that loose confidence that is when we're at our best, without feeling like we have our backs against the wall. Not that we're uncomfortable in that position. But, we can be the aggressor in this situation."
Corbin is trying to follow his rotation mates by snuffing out any St. Louis offense. The Cardinals have the worst batting average in NLCS history, a meager .121. St. Louis is going through a historic malaise. Corbin is going through his first postseason.
His start was rough. Corbin walked in a run to open Game 1 in Los Angeles. But, he worked his way through six innings despite the ineffective opening. A disastrous relief appearance followed three days later. Corbin's routine and outcomes were upended. He sat in the dugout during the rest of Game 3 against Los Angeles, stone-faced and wondering what happened. Asked afterward why he remained instead of walking into the clubhouse to decompress, he said, "I don't know."
Things have been better since then. Corbin's relief appearance in Game 5 against Los Angeles was paramount. He matched up late in Game 2 against St. Louis. Days typically reserved for bullpen sessions turned into in-game journeys during the season's most difficult time.
"I feel great at this time," Corbin said Monday. "Been lucky to stay healthy this whole season and just -- you just kind of continue to do what you've done, be smart about things. I think at this point in the season you're not lifting as heavy as you would and maybe backing down on some running and things like that. But pretty much the same routine. Body feels great. If you can't get up for these games, then yeah..."
Corbin faced St. Louis twice this season: April 29 and Sept. 17. St. Louis was an offensive force in April. September is the more relatable sample. Corbin went six innings, allowed five hits, no earned runs, four walks and struck out 11.
"I'll just try to go over film and go over what I did do well and what I didn't do well," Corbin said. "At this point, everyone kind of knows what I've done. I just need to go out there and execute those pitches."
Corbin was speaking in the same press conference room used for his introduction almost a year ago. Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer sat in the front row. Together, they went into spring training, then the regular season, as the core of everything. They remain so in the postseason. Strasburg and Scherzer have done their series work to this point. Corbin's chance comes Tuesday night, when he can close it down, send the Nationals to the World Series, and grab another round postgame.
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