World Series: Nationals' Patrick Corbin becomes postseason relief ace vs. Astros in Game 7

HOUSTON -- When the Nationals gave Patrick Corbin a $140 million contract this past offseason, I don't think they were planning to use him as their postseason relief ace. Sometimes plans change though, and this October, the Nationals leaned on last winter's most significant free-agent pitcher to get key outs out of the bullpen.

That was never more true than in Game 7 of the World Series on Wednesday night (WAS 6, HOU 2).

After Max Scherzer battled through five gutsy innings, Nationals manager Dave Martinez went to Corbin to help prevent a two-run deficit from growing any larger. The first batter he faced, Jake Marisnick, shot a single to left field. Corbin then retired eight of the next nine batters he faced to get Washington through the eighth inning.

The Nationals scored three runs in the seventh inning and another run in the eighth inning to turn that 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 lead, so Corbin did exactly what Martinez asked him to do. He prevented a very good Astros lineup -- no team in baseball punished lefties more during the regular season than Houston -- from tacking on insurance runs.

Corbin's first postseason relief appearance was a disaster -- he allowed six runs and got only two outs against the Dodgers in Game 3 of the NLDS -- and his last two starts didn't go great either (eight runs in 11 innings), but his other four relief appearances were damn near flawless. Look at this:

GameIPHRBBKScore EnteringScore Leaving

NLDS Game 5

1 1/3

0

0

0

3

WAS 3, LAD 3 in 8th

WAS 3, LAD 3 in 9th

NLCS Game 2

1/3

0

0

0

0

WAS 3, STL 1 in 9th

WAS 3, STL 1 in 9th

World Series Game 1

1

1

0

0

2

WAS 5, HOU 2 in 6th

WAS 5, HOU 2 in 7th

World Series Game 7

3

2

0

0

3

HOU 2, WAS 0 in 6th

WAS 4, HOU 2 in 9th

Total

5 2/3

4

0

0

8

--

--

Twenty batters faced and eight strikeouts. Two leads preserved, one tie game that remain tied, and one deficit that was kept small enough for the offense to turn it into a lead. The Nationals had the worst bullpen in the National League this season -- their 5.68 ERA was second worst in baseball, better than only the Orioles (5.79 ERA) -- and Corbin's flexibility allowed them to improvise in October.

"I'm so proud of all these guys and what they've done. I've asked them to do things that they, I'm sure, are not comfortable, and they did them, no questions asked. Corbin being one of them," Martinez said. "Corbin pitched out of the bullpen. Today we were thinking he would get one inning. He went out for one inning, we asked him if he could go out another inning, he said, yeah. Asked him again if he could go out for a third inning, he says whatever you need. After the third inning I said, I think we got you covered. Great job."

That horrendous regular season bullpen prompted GM Mike Rizzo to make three trades at the deadline. He brought in Hunter Strickland and Roenis Elias in separate trades with the Mariners, and also added Daniel Hudson in a deal with the Blue Jays. Hudson was released by the Angels in spring training, and it appeared his career may have been coming to an end.

Instead, Hudson caught on with Toronto and turned himself into a trade commodity, and the Nationals pounced. A late-season injury to Sean Doolittle opened the door for Hudson to close games, and he ran with the job. He recorded the final three outs without incident in Game 7. It was his fifth save this postseason. His career high prior to this season was five saves in 2016.

Corbin, the big free-agent signing, and Hudson, the scrapheap pickup-turned-closer, combined to throw four scoreless innings in Game 7 with only two baserunners allowed. That was most certainly not the plan coming into the season. In April, Corbin was a well-paid starter and Hudson was an afterthought. Six months later, they combined to close out the World Series.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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