Ailing Strasburg stymies Cubs as Nats knot NLDS
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.
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: