In the game that earned him a World Series MVP award, Stephen Strasburg’s body was nearing its limit after seven innings of two-run ball.
It was Game 6, and the win-or-go-home Nationals had a 5-2 lead over the Houston Astros courtesy of Anthony Rendon crushing a two-run homer earlier that frame. Manager Davey Martinez had just been ejected for arguing with the umpire crew, leaving bench coach Chip Hale in chare of in-game decisions for the rest of the contest.
Strasburg stumbled to start the game, allowing two runs in the first inning off an Alex Bregman moonshot. But pitching coach Paul Menhart noticed the right-hander was tipping his pitches and told him to stop shaking his glove when he concealed his grip. The adjustment proved effective, as Strasburg didn’t give up another hit until the fifth and cruised through seven innings without allowing another run.
But at 98 pitches, Strasburg was beginning to feel the wear on his body. The former Tommy John recipient had already thrown a National League-best 209 innings during the regular season and just finished his 35th frame of the playoffs. No one could’ve faulted Strasburg for coming out after the performance he had just put together in Houston.
Hale gave him another inning. He set down the Astros 1-2-3 in five pitches. That earned him the opportunity to come back out for the ninth, when he forced Yuli Gurriel to line out and put the Nationals two outs away from forcing a Game 7. That was when Hale came in with the hook.
“I get thrown out and Chip does a great job,” Martinez said on 106.7 The Fan’s Grant & Danny Show on Thursday. “I try not to tell Chip what to do ever. He was awesome. [Menhart] came up and I said, ‘Look, you know you have these other guys down there.’ [Strasburg] was barking a little bit in the seventh inning so I told Chip, ‘Hey, you make that decision, you make that call.’ And I thought he made the right call for our club and for Stephen.”
With two more outs, Strasburg would’ve been the first pitcher to toss a complete game in World Series Game 6 or later since Josh Beckett did it for the Florida Marlins in 2003.
“It would’ve been awesome, [but] at that point we knew we had the guys to finish the game,” Martinez said. “Stras did everything he could. We asked him to do things that he never thought he was capable of doing, which is come out of the bullpen a bunch, pitch on three days’ rest. He pitched a lot of innings last year so that game, for me, the decision to do that was based on where we were at at that point.”
Instead, Hale handed the ball over to Sean Doolittle, who allowed a two-out double to Carlos Correa but got through the frame cleanly to give the Nationals yet another come-from-behind win in an elimination game. Strasburg didn’t get the complete game, but he pushed through enough to deliver the signature performance of his career.
“We knew it was going to be his last game but we also had to think about the future of Stephen Strasburg,” Martinez said. “That’s where that decision came from.”
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