Lethbridge Herald - - FRONT PAGE - Jay Co­hen THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS — CHICAGO

Washington Na­tion­als force a fifth and de­cid­ing game with the Chicago Cubs in the National League Di­vi­sion Se­ries —

Stephen Stras­burg gave Washington ev­ery­thing he had, and it was more than enough.

So much for all those ques­tions about heart and char­ac­ter.

Stras­burg shook off an ill­ness and pitched seven dom­i­nant in­nings, Michael A. Taylor hit a late grand slam and the Na­tion­als beat the Chicago Cubs 5-0 on Wednesday to send their NL Di­vi­sion Se­ries to a de­ci­sive Game 5.

“I just fo­cused on one pitch at a time and going as long as I could,” Stras­burg said.

Mo­ments after Sean Doolit­tle closed out Stras­burg’s first ca­reer play­off win, the fo­cus shifted to the fi­nal game of the se­ries in Washington tonight. Kyle Hen­dricks starts for the World Se­ries cham­pion Cubs after throw­ing seven sharp in­nings in a 3-0 vic­tory over Stras­burg in Game 1.

Washington man­ager Dusty Baker was non-com­mit­tal when asked about his starter, with Gio Gon­za­lez and Tan­ner Roark the most likely can­di­dates.

“You know, who­ever it is, I hope they pitch like Stras did to­day,” Baker said. No kid­ding. Stras­burg got sick after his ter­rific per­for­mance in the play­off opener on Fri­day, and the Na­tion­als had planned to go with Roark even after a per­sis­tent rain washed out Game 4 on Tues­day. That led to a flurry of com­ments and crit­i­cism about whether the ace had the right stuff to pitch in big mo­ments.

But Stras­burg felt bet­ter when he woke up Wednesday and told Baker he wanted the ball. That was all Baker needed to hear.

“I could see the fo­cus and de­ter­mi­na­tion in his eyes, you know what I mean, when he came in the of­fice and we talked to him,” the man­ager said. “You know, he’s a man of few words, but the words he said, you know, gave us ev­ery in­di­ca­tion that he was ready.”

Stand­ing tall as clouds of mist rolled through Wrigley Field, Stras­burg struck out 12, al­lowed three hits and walked two. The No. 1 over­all pick in the 2009 draft has 22 Ks in 14 in­nings in the se­ries, al­low­ing only a pair of un­earned runs in the sixth in the opener.

“I like to think that any game that I pitch is the most im­por­tant game,” Stras­burg said. “That’s just how I tried to go into Game 4, and now we get a chance for a Game 5.”

Chicago wasted a gutsy per­for­mance from Jake Ar­ri­eta and solid re­lief by Game 2 starter Jon Lester in its first home play­off loss since Game 4 of the World Se­ries last year. NL MVP Kris Bryant struck out four times, and the de­fend­ing champs went 0 for 6 with run­ners in scor­ing po­si­tion.

“We just have to be of­fen­sively a lit­tle bit bet­ter to­mor­row,” Cubs man­ager Joe Mad­don said. “They have been re­ally good. We have been re­ally good. Lis­ten, they got a grand slam. Oth­er­wise, it’s kind of like the same game both sides.”

Ar­ri­eta walked five in four in­nings in his re­turn from a ham­string in­jury, but lim­ited Washington to an un­earned run and two hits. Lester got the Cubs all the way to the eighth.

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