- The Washington Times - Monday, October 14, 2019

By the time Stephen Strasburg jogged off the mound at 10:20 p.m. Monday, the Nationals had not only received another gem from a starting pitcher but their ace exited the game with a commanding lead in hand.

And when Strasburg arrived back in the dugout in Monday’s 8-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, Gerardo Parra greeted him with a hug.

The 31-year-old embraced it, but as he did, he felt another pair of hands — Anibal Sanchez’s, to be precise — on his back and soon, his teammates wouldn’t let go.


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For at least 12 seconds, Strasburg stood there as Parra and Sanchez congratulated him. Max Scherzer joined in. The pitcher held his smile, but looked increasingly uncomfortable as the hug dragged on.

“I’m not much of a hugger,” Strasburg said, “but they kind of just surround me.”



As much as he might dislike it, Strasburg knows this is how the Nationals are.

They’ve become a group that allows itself to have fun, even in the face of months-long adversity. Who knows where they would be without that energy?

Certainly, they wouldn’t be one win away from the World Series, like they now are after Monday’s victory.

In their first National League Championship Series home game, the Nationals took a commanding 3-0 series lead after a complete performance from Strasburg — and the rest of the Nationals’ lineup.

Fireworks shot off at the end of the Nationals’ win and the capacity crowd of 43,657 left the stadium excited, knowing that Washington can advance as soon as Tuesday. Washington needs just one more win to make its first World Series since 1933..

“That’s been our biggest strength since the beginning of the season,” first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “We have a group of guys in here that know how to have fun and know how to work hard.

“There’s a fine line between having too much fun and not doing what you’re supposed to do … but at the same time, we enjoy it.”

On Monday, the Nationals made it look easy all the same. Strasburg fanned 12 batters over seven innings. He churned through 117 pitches, making him the latest Nationals starter to deliver in the NLCS. And unlike the first two games in St. Louis, the Nationals’ bats exploded — finally getting consistent production.

The Nationals used a four-run third inning, while tacking on additional runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh to put the Cardinals on the brink of elimination.

The Cardinals have not been able to produce quality chances in the NLCS in part because of Washington’s dominance on the mound.

In St. Louis, the Nationals received elite performances from Sanchez and Scherzer. Each starter carried a no-hitter into at least the seventh inning and both gave up only one hit.

That was a tough act to follow, but Strasburg didn’t disappoint.

The cheering for the Nationals’ ace began before he faced a batter.

When Strasburg finally took the mound, he was honed in. He dispatched the top of the order in just 10 pitches.

And while the suspense of a Strasburg no-hitter ended early — Marcell Ozuna doubled to left in the second — it didn’t matter. Strasburg took care of the next three at-bats, including catching Ozuna in a rundown between second and third to record an out.

For the next five innings, he worked in a mix of curveballs, changeups and fastballs — flummoxing the Cardinals‘ lineup. His only sign of trouble came in the seventh, when St. Louis scored on an unearned run, but the three-time All-Star worked through the jam. He even told manager Dave Martinez he was fine to stay in the game during a mound visit.

But the Nationals haven’t gotten this far in the postseason solely because of elite pitching. Rather, Washington has been solid defensively and its lineup has produced enough runs to salvage its season.

Against the Cardinals, the Nationals got production from a variety of hitters. 36-year-old Howie Kendrick went 3 of 4, knocking in three runs. NL MVP candidate Anthony Rendon went 2 of 3 with an RBI.

Even Victor Robles, making his return from a hamstring injury, went 2 of 4 and hit a home-run in the sixth inning.

Washington’s success cracked Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty, who had gone 18 consecutive starts without allowing more than three runs — until Monday.

The Nationals’ offense broke out in the third, scoring four runs. The rally started with a two-out single from right fielder Adam Eaton, and included RBI doubles from Rendon and Kendrick.

“We’re no Yankees when it comes to home run hitting,” Eaton said. “Or the Minnesota Twins. But we try to manufacture runs and I think if you get good enough at manufacturing runs, it’s kind of difficult to play against those teams.”

Since May, when Washington was just 19-31, the club has rallied, climbing out of a hole that many were ready to bury them in.

Now, the Nationals are one win away from the World Series.

“You never know when it’s going to be your last run,” Zimmerman said. “That’s kind of been one of Davey’s messages from the beginning: ‘We’re going to have fun. You look back five, 10 years after you’re done and say you wish you would have had more fun while you were playing Major League Baseball.’

“We’ve kind of embraced that.”

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