HOUSTON - The legend of Stephen Strasburg, playoff monster, continues to grow after leading his team to a comfortable 12-3 victory in Game 2 of the World Series to take a 2-0 series lead. It didn't quite appear as if things would go his way immediately on Wednesday, but that's how it ended.
The Nationals stunned the Houston crowd with two runs before Astros starter Justin Verlander even recorded an out in Game 2 of the 2019 World Series. That's all they would get and Alex Bregman clubbed a two-run homer to get Minute Maid Park hopping again.
It was a bit shocking to see Strasburg get teed up in the first -- one of the outs was Jose Altuve getting caught trying to steal third -- allowing a single, double and homer on three hard-hit balls.
That would be the last of it, however, Strasburg settled in and was nails for the Nats, gutting his way through trouble in the sixth.
During 33 regular-season starts, Strasburg went over 100 pitches just four times with his high being 115. His last playoff start (Game 3 of the NLCS), he went to 117. So it's not like Strasburg couldn't work that deep, it's just that he rarely does. Facing an offense like the Astros in a tie game, it had to be a daunting prospect for Nationals manager Dave Martinez to leave him in, but he also had to know with the shape of his bullpen he had to have it.
Also, it's possible extra rest factored. Strasburg was on eight days of rest.
Still, he had lots of tough spots and succeeded every time after the rough first.
Strasburg got a lineout and then two strikeouts. The lineout had to be worrisome, but then the two strikeouts which included swinging strikes on both his fastball and change teamed with looking strikes on two curveballs and it really felt like that's when he locked in.
A called strike on a curve, foul ball and swinging strike on a change and he was rolling. He got George Springer to pop out on high heat. That's when adversity set in. He had Jose Altuve on an inning-ending grounder, but Trea Turner committed an error. Michael Brantley then battled his butt off against Strasburg before singling and it was runners at the corners in a tie game against Bregman. Take note of the earlier Bregman home run. This time, a good fourseamer coaxed an inning-ending fielder's choice.
A three-pitch strikeout of Yuli Gurriel started things off and Gurriel had previously only struck out once all postseason. He only struck out 65 times in over 600 regular-season plate appearances. That's how well Strasburg threw this at-bat. He worked around a single with a weak groundout and a strikeout on yet another swinging-strike change.
A good curveball starts things off with a groundout. Springer then absolutely smoked one, but Turner atoned for his earlier error and made an excellent play. Jose Altuve would single and this time Strasburg won the seven-pitch battle with Brantley.
Now, Strasburg's pitch count was 87, which is totally fine, but there were lots of high-stress pitches, this is an outstanding offense and Springer and Altuve both hit balls hard in the fifth. This was gonna be a rough inning, in all likelihood and it was. Bregman grounded out, but he hit it 97.9 miles per hour. Gulp, says the Washington dugout. Next, Gurriel doubled with the hardest hit ball since Bregman's homer. After falling down 2-0 to Alvarez, the Nationals decided to put him on. It was Carlos Correa now with two on, one out in a tie game. Time to put on the Big Boy Pants, Stephen. He did. With a well-placed change, he got Correa to pop up.
Pinch hitter Kyle Tucker would battle for seven pitches to a 3-2 count -- meaning the runners would be moving on the pitch -- before Strasburg dropped this beauty of a curve in there:
The final line: 6 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 0 BB*, 7 K, 114 pitches. All this after allowing two runs on three hits in the first to one of the best offenses in baseball.
*I'm not counting the intentional walk.
So far this postseason, Strasburg is 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 40 strikeouts against two walks (remember, one was intentional). The Nationals have won all five games in which he's appeared. His manager isn't too shocked in his ability to step up.
"One, he has the confidence to do it; two, I said this before: He's become a premier pitcher, a big-game pitcher," manager Dave Martinez said after the game. "We've seen that. He doesn't get rattled. He knows what he needs to do. He stays in the moment, which is huge for him. He doesn't get overly excited when things happen and he loves the big game. He really does."
Hey, no further convincing needed, Mr. Martinez. The proof is right in front of us.
In his playoff career, Strasburg is 5-2 with a 1.34 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 64 strikeouts against six walks in 47 innings. The Nationals still have a lot of work to do, because the Astros are so good, but if they close them down at some point, we've gotta think of him alongside names like Curt Schilling, Jon Lester and Madison Bumgarner when it comes to postseason lore. What he's doing this postseason is that good.