Remember when there was that really weird controversy about Stephen Strasburg being too sick to pitch Game 4 for the Nationals? And then suddenly, after apparently being given a healthy dose of antibiotics and peer pressure, he was going to give it a shot? That was weird. And weirder still that after all that, he told National pitching coach Mike Maddux yesterday: “Give me the ball.”
And then he took the early bus to Wrigley and told Maddux again, with Dusty Baker there, “I want the ball. Give it to me.’’
Maddux said, “He had the eye of the tiger. “He didn’t ask for the ball. He demanded it. We looked at him, and said, ‘OK. You got it. You got it.’’’
Cool moment, but this whole thing wouldn’t go away if he went out and got lit up by the Cubs and the Nats’ season ended. In fact, it would’ve been a story all offseason. The only way to get this to go away or to at least make it smaller, would be for Stephen Strasburg to go out and dominate the defending champs.
Let’s go to the bottom of the first inning, shall we? Jon Jay led off with a flyout. Kris Bryant, strikeout. Anthony Rizzo, grab some pine. Bottom of the third: Jake Arrieta caught looking. Jay strikes out. Bryant whiffs again.
The guy who’d been “under the weather” was in the Cubs heads. And just dominating.
Bottom of the fourth: Rizzo walks back after another K. Willson Contreras gets on and maybe there’s a chance for the Cubs. No there’s not, Strasburg strikes out Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell and ends the inning. Eventually, he’s going to get tired, though, right? No. Bottom of the seventh: Zobrist. sit down. Russell, have some. Jason Heyward, thanks for coming.
In a postseason where almost no starter is having a major impact, Strasburg went 7 innings, gave up 3 hits, 0 runs, and had a franchise postseason record 12 strikeouts. Is that good? No. It’s damn good. It’s actually incredible. I don’t know how healthy he was or wasn’t, but he was sick last night. His changeup was absolutely filthy, simply unfair.
I don’t know what Strasburg’s teammates were thinking when it looked like he couldn’t go, but it’s pretty clear what they were thinking after he was done last night. Bryce Harper summed it up: “Just a warrior.”
“He came in the other day, and his face was the color of that carpet. For him to be able to cowboy up tonight and do his job, go out there, shows how much of a great teammate he is.”
He needed a masterful performance to erase that weirdness and he did it. With the team’s back against the wall and his own reputation on the line, he came through in a big way. How good was he? How dominant was he? Maybe so good that he not only changed that kooky story into a great pre-amble. Maybe so good that he not only changed the Nationals postseason, but he changed his own reputation in the process.
Is it possible to go from a guy who didn’t think he could take the ball in an elimination game because he was sick to a guy who saved his team’s season in a matter of hours? From a guy who might’ve been seen as a flake to a postseason warrior and horse in just seven innings? I don’t know if it is, but if any pitcher could do it and any one game could do it, it was Stephen Strasburg last night.