In an otherwise hectic World Series Game 6, Stephen Strasburg saved the Washington Nationals’ season by being the steady hand beneath a fluttering glove.
On Tuesday night, Strasburg empowered his club to live another day by pitching into the ninth inning of Washington’s 7-2 victory against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. He gave up a pair of first-inning runs and yielded just five baserunners the rest of the way. His final line, the best in what’s become a storied postseason career, registered five hits, two walks and seven strikeouts in 8.1 innings.
“Big pitchers in big moments do what Strasburg did today,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez told reporters. “I told him after the game, I said, ‘That was tremendous. You picked us all up, and we're going to Game 7 because of your performance.’ ”
It was Strasburg’s fifth win of the playoffs, tying him with Randy Johnson (2001) and Francisco Rodriguez (2002) for the most in a postseason. His October ERA actually rose to 1.54, which still ranks second to Christy Mathewson (0.96) for the lowest by a pitcher with at least eight starts.
He became the first pitcher since Kansas City’s Danny Jackson in 1985 to pitch at least eight innings on the road in a World Series elimination game, and the first to do so and win since Orel Hershiser did it for the Indians in 1995. The performance was the first since Curt Schilling in 2003 in which a starter lasted 8 1/3 innings and gave up two runs or fewer in a World Series elimination game.
“Oh, man, super impressed by him. Not shocked, to say the least,” Nats’ third baseman Rendon told reporters. “I've been watching him for a long time now. He's had plenty of games like that. I think it's just been heightened since he's doing it in the postseason now, especially on the run that we're on.”
The night obviously didn’t get off to the best of starts for Strasburg. All that history might not have been made possible without a clever observation by Nationals’ pitching coach Paul Menhart.
Staked to a one-run advantage on Rendon’s RBI single in the opening frame, Strasburg coughed up the lead on four pitches. George Springer doubled, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on Jose Altuve’s sacrifice fly to left. Alex Bregman launched a solo shot and took his bat for a 90-foot stroll later in the inning to put Houston on top.
Strasburg diagnosed his first-inning issues during a brief conference with Menhart in the dugout. He admitted, and Martinez put it quite bluntly as well, that he’d been tipping pitches, though given the location of both fastballs — elevated and over the heart of the plate — they could have been chalked up to simple mistakes. But for the next 7.1 innings, Strasburg stymied the Astros with a small adjustment that he believes made a world of difference.
“I started shaking my glove so they didn’t know what I was throwing,” Strasburg said on the FOX postgame. “I definitely didn’t [recognize that] because that’s something that has burned me in the past, and they burned me in the first.
“Again, it’s just a part of the game, and you got to do your best to stay consistent in your delivery on each pitch.”
The 31-year-old posted four 1-2-3 innings and retired the final 10 batters he faced to conclude his outing, including seven consecutive outs after the height of this game’s controversy, which resulted in Martinez’s ejection in the seventh inning.
He issued both walks with two outs in the fourth, but struck out Carlos Correa to end the threat. The Nats handed him back the lead on homers by Adam Eaton and Juan Soto but Springer backed him into a corner again, hitting a one-out double to move the potential go-ahead run in scoring position. Strasburg escaped, striking out Altuve and getting Michael Brantley to bounce to short for the final out.
“He has an uncanny ability to slow the game down when he's under any duress,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch told reporters. “We didn't put a lot of stress on him. But the times that we did ... he kind of backs it down a little bit, throws the secondary pitches for strikes, he locates pitches. He didn't make a lot of mistakes.
“He's got a slow heartbeat out there.”
It’ll likely be the last game Strasburg pitches in 2019. He admitted that he “gave it everything he has” after the game. His postseason run will likely conclude with a 1.98 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 36.1 innings.
And thanks to his personal brilliance, it could also end with a championship for the Nationals.
More from Yahoo Sports: