Ail­ing Stras­burg stymies Cubs as Nats knot NLDS

New York Post - - SPORTS - By FRED KER­BER fred.ker­ber@ny­

CHICAGO — And that’s what all the fuss over Stephen Stras­burg was about.

When the Na­tion­als an­nounced Tues­day they would stay with Tan­ner Roark as start­ing pitcher over a sick but po­ten­tially avail­able Stras­burg for Game 4 of the National League Di­vi­sion Se­ries which had been pushed back a day by rain, there was shock, out­rage, dis­be­lief. Grab a the­saurus for more words.

But there was only one word for Stras­burg in the elim­i­na­tion game Wednesday: Sen­sa­tional.

Un­less you pre­fer sur­real, over­pow­er­ing, mag­nif­i­cent … you get the idea.

“His changeup and curve­ball com­bi­na­tions, devastating,” said Cubs starter and loser Jake Ar­ri­eta, sup­ply­ing yet an­other ad­jec­tive.

Stras­burg, who was an­nounced as the starter ear­lier in the day, topped his own fran­chise strike­out record (which he had es­tab­lished five days ear­lier), blow­ing away 12 Cubs in seven in­nings of three-hit ball and the Na­tion­als stayed alive with a 5-0 vic­tory that tied the NLDS at 2-2 in mis­er­able weather at Wrigley Field.

“Woke up this morn­ing, and I wouldn’t say I felt like great, but I felt like I was bet­ter than what I was the day be­fore,” Stras­burg said. “So I called Mad Dog [pitch­ing coach Mike Mad­dux] in the morn­ing and said, ‘Just give me the ball.’ ”

The se­ries-de­cid­ing Game 5 will be Thursday in Washington at 8:08 p.m. The Cubs will use Game 1 win­ner Kyle Hen­dricks. For the Na­tion­als, “who­ever it is, I hope they pitch like Stras did,” said man­ager Dusty Baker adding “I would ven­ture to say Tan­ner or Gio [Gon­za­lez] or both.”

All the drama, in­trigue and scru­tiny be­gan with Tues­day’s post­pone­ment. With Stras­burg sick, Baker said Roark would pitch. The team had to switch ho­tels Tues­day and their bus got stuck in traf­fic.

“It seemed like once we got here, I got hit pretty hard with this virus. It just seemed to suck the life out of me,” said Stras­burg who did not re­spond to ini­tial an­tibi­otics, but said he felt much bet­ter with a dif­fer­ent medicine. “Luck­ily they switched it yes­ter­day in just the hopes that it would kick in.”

It did. But what chance did he give him­self to pitch while sit­ting on that bus?

“It wasn’t much, to be hon­est,” Stras­burg said.

It still was bet­ter odds than the Cubs had against him in the wind, cold and mist of Wrigley Field. Stras­burg threw 106 pitches be­fore be­ing lifted. He made an un­earned run stand up be­fore the Na­tion­als put it away on Michael A. Taylor’s eighth-in­ning grand slam — the first in fran­chise play­off his­tory — off Cubs closer Wade Davis. Washington’s ini­tial score, in the third in­ning, came when Cubs short­stop Ad­di­son Rus­sell mis­han­dled Ryan Zim­mer­man’s grounder, al­low­ing Trea Turner to score.

After Na­tion­als gen­eral man­ager Mike Rizzo gave a lengthy briefing to the me­dia, Stras­burg even­tu­ally took the mound in short sleeves and hit 96 mph to the first bat­ter, a mark he of­ten re­peated. He needed 16 pitches for a 1-2-3 first in­ning that in­cluded strike­outs of Kris Bryant and An­thony Rizzo, fore­shad­ow­ing what was to come. By the sev­enth in­ning, he had sur­passed the 10 strike­outs he had rung up in Game 1. Stras­burg said feel­ing so bad for a few days ac­tu­ally helped quell his emo­tions.

“It prob­a­bly was a bless­ing in dis­guise. My en­ergy wasn’t re­ally like through the roof, so I think it was eas­ier for me to man­age it. So I just fo­cused on one pitch at a time,” he said. “I’m sur­prised I was able to hang in there. But it’s just those sit­u­a­tions where, you know, try and break the game down, keep it sim­ple.”

And keep it im­pos­si­ble for the Cubs, es­pe­cially with a swing-and­miss changeup.

“It looks just like his four-seam com­ing out of his hand and then it drops just be­low the zone,” said the Cub’ Ben Zo­brist, whose sec­ond-in­ning dou­ble was the first hit off Stras­burg. “You can’t guess heater and still hit that pitch. He made it look like the heater and we swung through it a lot.”

The Cubs man­aged an in­field sin­gle by Will­son Con­tr­eras in the fourth and a sin­gle by Ja­son Hey­ward in the fifth. Not enough to over­come an un­earned run and Taylor’s slam.

And cer­tainly not enough to beat all that Stras­burg was.

Getty Im­ages

Cubs fans (above) made digs at him, but Stephen Stras­burg (left), pitch­ing de­spite re­cent flu symp­toms, shut Chicago down in Game 4 of the NLDS, ty­ing the se­ries at 2-2 and forc­ing Game 5. SICK OUT­ING:

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