Let us never doubt the fortitude of Stephen Strasburg again. Or, for that matter, the change-up.
Strasburg, the Washington Nationals’ will-he-or-won’t-he Game 4 starter, proved that all the drama and all the hot takes were for naught. Not only did Strasburg pitch Wednesday, he dominated the Chicago Cubs, pushing this National League Division Series to a decisive Game 5 on Thursday night back in D.C.
After recovering from the flu, Strasburg turned in one of the most dominating starts of his career in no-doubt the most important game. He pitched seven shutout innings, striking 12, allowed just three hits and willed the Nats to a 5-0 win at Wrigley Field, helping their season continue for one more day. Considering the Nats have never won a postseason series, this could be their biggest postseason win — until the next one, possibly.
For the posturing and bad PR that preceded Strasburg’s start, the real story was Strasburg’s swing-and-miss stuff. The Cubs were waving at Strasburg’s change-up all day — whiffing at 15 of the 32 he threw. It was pretty much the exact opposite of the 24 hours leading up to the game, which could only be described as a gigantic mess for the Nats.
Tuesday’s rainout seemed to give the Nats a break in the series, as an extra day would allow them to pitch Strasburg on normal rest instead of Tanner Roark. But then Nats manager Dusty Baker shocked everyone in baseball by announcing Roark would pitch anyway because Strasburg was sick. The takes flew in overnight, as people questioned Strasburg’s toughness and commitment. By Wednesday morning, the Nats had announced Strasburg was better and would pitch. GM Mike Rizzo described Strasburg getting IV treatments for the flu this week and new meds he received Tuesday turning things around.
The Cubs sure wished he was sick because Strasburg carved them up. Ben Zobrist got a second-inning double, but Strasburg nuked the threat. Willson Contreras got an infield single in the fourth, but Strasburg struck out the next two batters. Jason Heyward singled in the fifth, but Strasburg induced a double play and another groundout. But that was it. The Cubs couldn’t do anything after that. Even in the seventh inning, with his pitch count topping 100, Strasburg struck out the side.
Meanwhile, the Nats’ offense did enough early to get a lead and then cracked things open in the eighth inning. In the third, Trea Turner who hadn’t yet gotten a hit in the series, doubled for the Nats. He scored when Addison Russell booted a ball at shortstop. The game stayed close until the eighth, when the Cubs got in trouble and Michael A. Taylor came up for Washington with the bases loaded. Taylor knocked a grand slam to right field, the first postseason homer given up by Cubs closer Wade Davis since a 2010 start for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Now, it’s all down to one game between two of the National League’s heavyweights. It’ll be a quick turnaround with no day off because of Tuesday’s rainout. They’ll play again at 8 p.m. ET Thursday at Nationals Park. The Cubs will send Game 1 starter Kyle Hendricks to the mound after a dominating start of his own. The Nats have Game 2 starter Gio Gonzalez rested to start, but just like with this game, Dusty Baker will have questions to answer about his starter.
Can Max Scherzer come back on three days’ rest? We’ll find out.
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