Strasburg Pitches Nats One Win Away from World Series

As he walked alone from the bullpen before the start of game three of the National League playoffs, the fans cheered. Stephen Strasburg gave no reaction. It appeared he was focused as he took each step to the dugout. Failed to hear the cheering fans or just so focused he did not want to react to them. When he got on the mound he was almost unhittable, striking out 12. He did give up seven hits, but three of them were in the seventh inning, his last. That is when he gave up his only run. Juan Soto slipping in the outfield and then making a wild throw to the infield. The ball flew past Trea Turner and Rendon and skipped past an inattentive Strasburg.

In the past, an incident like that would have unnerved Strasburg. A 7-0 lead was now 7-1. Two runners were on base with only one out. Strasburg had just given up three hits, all line drives or clunkers into left field. A defensive player had just made an error that cost the team a run. Time to man up. Matt Wieters came in to pinch hit and Strasburg struck him out. Derek Fowler came up, 0 for 3 with two strikeouts on the day. Strasburg threw three pitches past him for the whiff. You could see Max Scherzer in the dugout giving out a big fist cheer. There was a big group hug for Strasburg as he reached the dugout, led by Gerrado Parra.

The Nationals broke this game open in the third inning off Cardinals pitching phenom Jack Flaherty. Victor Robles got the inning started with an off the end of the bat seeing eye ground ball single into centerfield. Strasburg bunted him to second. After Trea Turner struck out for the second out the Nationals needed a clutch hit from Adam Eaton. They got one with a ground single to the right of second base that scored Robles.

Anthony Rendon blooped one into left field. Marcel Ozuna charged the ball and tried to make a sliding catch. The ball hit off his glove and rolled far enough in front of him for Adam Eaton to score the second run. It was a catchable ball that was ruled a double. Juan Soto walked and Howie Kendrick lined the first of his three doubles, this one into right center that scored both Rendon and Soto. The Nationals were up 4-0. They probably should not have scored any.

Flaherty lasted only four innings. Tyler Webb was the first to come on in relief to start the fifth. He gave up a single to Anthony Rendon. With a bucketful of right handed hitters coming up the Cardinals went with John Brebbia. Howie Kendrick swung at his first pitch and lined it into the left center field gap. Rendon was being waved home and made it easily after Ozuna dropped the ball the first time he tried to pick it up. Ryan Zimmerman got behind in the count 0-2 and lined a pitch into the left centerfield gap for another double to put the Nationals up 6-0.

In the sixth Victor Robles led the inning off with a homerun. He was one of the least likely players to be voted dinger of the day, but he was the only National to have the ball leave the park. It barely left the park. His mom watching him play for the first time in the United States had to be proud.

The Cardinals finally got to Strasburg in the seventh. Jose Martinez ran the count to 3-2, fouled a number of two strike pitches off and then lined a single to left, his second hit of the day. Yadier Molina followed with a single on the next pitch from Strasburg to put two runners on. The pitch count for Stras had reached 100 but he struck out Tommy Edman. Paul Dejong blooped a single to left. The Cardinals were happy to keep the bases loaded, even after Soto slipped on the grass and fell. He got up and wildly threw the ball to the infield, past Turner and Rendon. Strasburg was not looking and the ball got past him. Suzuki chased after the ball that had now rolled past the first base foul line, but Martinez scored. That is when Strasburg showed his mettle, striking out the next two hitters to end the inning and his day at 117 pitches.

The Nationals got the run back in the bottom of the seventh. Howie Kendrick tied a record for most doubles in a National Championship Series by again finding the gap into left center. Ryan Zimmerman lined a single past the third baseman to score Kendrick.

Fernando Rodney and Tanner Rainey each pitched an inning and retired all three hitters they faced, each striking out two. Rainey hit 102 on the radar gun with his fastball.

Game Notes: In addition to his two fielding gaffes in left field, Ozuna made a base running mistake in the second inning that changed the complexion of the game. He led the inning off with a double to left field. Jose Martinez grounded a pitch to Strasburg. Ozuna strayed too far off second and was tagged by Strasburg for the first out, not even trying to get in a run down…Paul Goldschmidt struck out all four times he came to the plate…The announced attendance was 43,675, but there seemed to be many of those fans looking like blue seats. Columbus day weekend may have resulted in some no shows…The 50-50 payout was a bit over $33,000…Security was plentiful. Lots of dogs and lots of guns. Made me wonder who pays for all this security…Six of the seven runs the Nationals scored were on two out hits. Only the Victor Robles leadoff homerun in the sixth came with less than two out…Kurt Suzuki got his first hit of the playoffs with a single to left in the fourth inning…Strasburg has a playoff ERA of 1.10. The only two pitchers with a lower playoff ERAs are Sandy Koufax (0.96) and Christy Mathewson (1.06)…The Robles homerun was witnessed by his mom, who was watching her first game in the United States…The “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble” announcer was at the game and made his patented call, just before “play ball”…The first pitch was thrown by the Make a Wish kid. He wish was to become a National for a day, and signed a one day contract. The Nationals were 19 and something when he signed. They had the best record in baseball after he signed a contract.

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