Nats bullpen, awful all year, comes up big in NLCS clincher

washington nationalsThe bottom of the first was over in a flash, as the Washington Nationals batted around in taking a 7-0 lead, seemingly safely on their way to a Game 4 win, NLCS sweep, World Series berth, the rest.

And then …

“At first you think, man, that’s awesome. We’re probably going to score a bunch of runs, and it turns out we didn’t. That was it,” said Nats manager Davey Martinez, after his team had closed out the 7-4 win that did, ultimately, get Washington its first World Series since the Senators won the American League in 1933.

Credit due to the St. Louis bullpen, which held the Nationals to four hits over seven and two-thirds innings.

Down 3-0, down 7-0, it would have been easy to roll over and play dead.

“I’ve seen it before from that team. I knew they weren’t going to quit,” Nats first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “I’ve said this multiple times to a lot of interviewers. That team over there and that organization, it’s one of the best. I knew they weren’t going to give up. I knew they weren’t going to roll over. Their bullpen did a really good job of keeping it that way, and then they chipped away a little bit, but our bullpen did a great job, as well.”

Ah, yes, to the Nats bullpen, the focus of our story here.

Beleaguered, maligned, scorned, deservedly so, for posting the worst ERA in all of MLB in 2019.

After starter Patrick Corbin came out guns-a-blazin’, striking out 10 in the first four innings, and then flamed out, giving up three runs and facing the tying run at the plate in the fifth, the Nats ‘pen was somehow … lights-out?

Yeah, we all saw that coming.

Tanner Rainey pitched a perfect sixth, and Sean Doolittle followed with a 1-2-3 seventh.

Doolittle then got the first two outs of the eighth before allowing a two-strike single to Marcell Ozuna.

Martinez went to closer Daniel Hudson, who promptly hit Yadier Molina and then walked Paul DeJong on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases.

Pinch-hitter Matt Carpenter seemed like the ballgame. Martinez had sorta, kinda played his last card, going to Hudson after using Doolittle.

Carpenter does something here, and the Nats are probably out of options, and actually, the pitch count was also an issue, for same reason.

Hudson got ahead in the count on a pair of swinging strikes on 97-mph four-seamers, then Carpenter fouled off another 97-mph heater, took two more, before finally grounding out on a 96-mph four-seamer.

The concern, then, was the 16 pitches that it took Hudson to get through the inning, but Kolten Wong, leading off the ninth, helped out by lifting the second pitch to short left for an easy fly-ball out.

Pinch-hitter Matt Wieters worked a 2-2 count before popping out just in front of the plate.

Tommy Edman, two outs, nobody on, flew out to medium center on a 1-1 pitch, another four-seam fastball, 95 mph.

Bedlam.

And it was largely because the weak link bowed up.

The bullpen line in Game 4: four innings, one hit, one walk, one HBP, no runs.

“You know, 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. 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.

“I’m proud of those guys, but for me, you have to – they bought in. The big thing is they bought in,” Martinez said. “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.”

Story by Chris Graham



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