“That just helped me kind of take a step back,” Strasburg said. “Just go nice and easy and stay on-line as long as I can.”
Otherwise, he dazzled. He struck the Phillies out in all kinds of ways. They flailed at fastballs, curveballs, change-ups.
Darin Ruf took him to 10 pitches in the fifth inning, and Strasburg ran the first nine pitches as follows: curveball, fastball, curveball, fastball, curveball, sinker, fastball, curveball. When Ruf was still standing there after that barrage, Strasburg threw him a change-up on the 10th pitch. Ruf swung through it.
“Going deep in games, low pitch counts, striking out that number, instead of going up and trying to miss the bats, he was pretty much saying, ‘Here, hit it,’” Johnson said. “Which is great.”
Four days ago, the Nationals’ season reached a nadir. Swept by the Atlanta Braves, their chances to repeat as division champions appeared slim, if still present at all. They fielded questions about whether or not they’d need to combat the feeling of resignation.
But in the three games since the Nationals have played little like the team that came into the series a season-high six games below .500, but far more like the one that won 98 games just a year ago.
Never was that on better display than in the three-run fifth, when they loaded the bases with no outs, and watched Werth and Ian Desmond, displaying alert base-running, score on a hard grounder to second that the Phillies muffed on the play at home. Five of their eight starting position players posted multihit games, and seven of them reached base at least once.
As third baseman Ryan Zimmerman went airborne to his right to snag the game’s final out they, celebrated all of it.
“We’re scoring runs and getting timely hitting,” Werth said. “Really, the approach and the atmosphere in the dugout and in the clubhouse has been different. It’s been better. Hopefully we can build on that. We’re in striking distance. We got a long, hard road ahead of us.”