Washington Nationals

Stephen Strasburg saves Nationals from elimination in Game 6

The Nationals needed a great performance from Stephen Strasburg, and the former first overall pick gave it to them to send the World Series to Game 7.

This is what all the hype was about. The scouting reports that made him out to be the best pitching prospect in a generation. The Major League debut that was broadcast on national TV. It all led up to this moment for Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals.

Strasburg, in what may be his final game in a Nationals uniform, pitched into the ninth inning of Game 6 on Tuesday and held the Houston Astros to two runs in a 7-2 Washington victory that forces a seventh and deciding game on Wednesday.

Strasburg gave up two early runs after George Springer led off with a double, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on Jose Altuve’s sacrifice fly. Alex Bregman added a home run, his second off Strasburg in this series, to put Houston up 2-1 after one.

Strasburg settled down from there, giving up only three hits the rest of the game. In the fifth inning, the Astros put runners at second and third with one out before Strasburg got Altuve to chase a curveball in the dirt for a strikeout and Michael Brantley was retired on a sharp grounder to Trea Turner at shortstop. He was removed after recording the first out in the ninth inning, becoming only the fourth starter to pitch into the ninth inning in the World Series this decade and the first since Johnny Cueto of the Royals in 2015.

It’s the type of performance the Nationals have been waiting for since they drafted Strasburg with the first pick in 2009. For all the bumps in the road along the way, including being shut down in the 2012 playoffs to rest his fragile elbow, it was well worth the wait. The 2019 postseason has been Strasburg’s coming out show. He improves to 5-0 this October, only the third pitcher in history with five wins in a single postseason, joining Randy Johnson in 2001 and Francisco Rodriguez in 2002.

Strasburg is quickly developing into one of the premier postseason performers of this, or any, generation. There are 113 pitchers who have started at least eight career games in the postseason, a group that includes 19 Hall of Famers. Strasburg’s 1.46 career ERA is lower than all of them except Christy Mathewson. His strikeout rate of 31.3 percent is the highest in that group.

He wasn’t the only player in a Nationals uniform who helped the club stave off elimination on Tuesday. The solo home runs by Adam Eaton and Juan Soto in the fifth inning off Justin Verlander pulled the Nationals ahead of the Astros. In the seventh inning, after Turner was called out by home plate umpire Sam Holbrook in a controversial interference call at first base, Anthony Rendon gave them some insurance with a two-run homer. The MVP-candidate third baseman added a two-run double in the ninth, finishing the game 3-4 with five RBI. He’s only the second third baseman in World Series history with five RBI; the first was Bregman, two games ago.

If the Nationals were looking for some extra motivation to win this game, they could’ve looked at their Game 7 starter Max Scherzer. Scherzer returning to pitch in the winner-take-all game after being in so much pain before Game 5 that he couldn’t dress himself promises to be one of the best stories of toughness and resilience in recent memory.

Next: Pressure shifts to Astros, Zack Greinke in Game 7

But first the Nationals had to get him the ball, and for that they can thank Strasburg and Rendon. Rendon is a free agent after this season. Strasburg can opt-out of his contract and test the market. If this was their swan song in a Nationals uniform, it was a fitting sendoff.

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