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Stephen Strasburg's shutdown is the No. 17 moment in the Big Twenty

Stephen Strasburg's shutdown is the No. 17 moment in the Big Twenty

For the next three weeks, NBC Sports Washington will be rolling out the 20 biggest stories in DMV sports in the past 20 years. Here is No. 17.

Scott Boras sat on a stage in San Diego more than seven years later and began to gloat. 

“I think there always has to be that trust factor that exists between an organization and a player,” Boras said at the Winter Meetings. “I think the Washington Nationals and Stephen Strasburg built a trust based upon an early position by Ted Lerner and the Washington organization and Mike Rizzo about the protection of a player.”

Boras was referencing the infamous Strasburg Shutdown of 2012. Nationals fans latched onto the organization’s decision to not pitch the phenom in the postseason from the moment it was made. The decision was often disparaged, influenced by a distinct line of thought: These chances can be fleeting, and you’re not going for it?

Media members are remembered for their stance at the time. The choice remains among the most emblematic of Mike Rizzo’s tenure as the team’s general manager. He made a hard, widely unpopular, decision about a player under team control, outside influences be damned. The decision, at least in Boras’ eyes, brought Strasburg back to the team twice, which ultimately means he will never leave.

Stephen A. Smith called the decision “disgraceful.” Rudy Giuliani took a stance. Sports talk radio blistered. The outcome was re-litigated each time Washington made the playoffs after 2012 and contributed heavily to the brewing narrative focused on Strasburg’s tendency to shrink if something wasn’t just right. 

He fought this line of thinking with a season-saving performance in Game 4 of the 2017 NLDS in Chicago. His 2019 postseason work -- including being named World Series MVP -- fully dismantled the idea. In fact, The Shutdown may eventually be mentioned in a Hall of Fame acceptance speech or at least at a jersey retirement ceremony a decade from now. 

“I think that Stephen Strasburg has rewarded the Nationals with a championship, his performance, a World Series MVP because of the position that this organization took to take the medical advice and protect the player long term, even though the immediate effect caused a great deal of angst among the club and the fans,” Boras said.

The Shutdown is no longer a pejorative. In fact, providing time and space for the decision to breathe allowed the ultimate outcome to be opposite the instant assessment. The Shutdown continues to have a distinct place in Nationals history. That spot is just now, and forever, on the other side of the ledger.
 

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Astros wade through first boo-filled night of many to come

Astros wade through first boo-filled night of many to come

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The only agreed upon factor of Saturday night’s spring training opener was affinity for Dusty Baker. 

Baker, alone at home plate to receive a ceremonial first pitch, raised his hand to the crowd when announced. Both sides cheered. Those in red stood, some shouted his name. Others on the Houston side could unabashedly applaud Baker. He represented what’s next, not what was.

But the past chased the Astros from the second the ballpark opened. Any Houston highlights were followed by hefty boos. “FOR THE H” flashed on the right-center field video board during the evening on what was supposed to be an Astros “home” game. However, there was nothing warm and fuzzy about the location for the Astros, an experience sure to track them outside of Houston throughout the season.

The Astros were booed en masse since Baker did not play any of his regulars. Myles Straw, Jeremy Pena and Taylor Jones began the game against Max Scherzer. It’s difficult to let Nos. 3, 89 and 79, respectively, have it on the first night of spring training. But, those on the team in 2017 remained safely in the dugout, prompting an expansion of targets.

Before Scherzer began his night, the Astros’ mascot, Orbit, ran across the face of the Washington dugout with an oversized Houston flag. He, too, was booed -- with fervor. Anything representing the Astros was in play since their main facets were not on the field.

Two signs carried by Nationals fans were taken by a ballpark employee. Some Washington fans banged on their seats during the game to mimic the Astros’ prior method for stealing signs. Scherzer thought something colorful had a chance to leak into the setting.

“I figured something like that was going to happen,” Scherzer said. “I got a good taste of what it’s like [when] facing [Bryce Harper] last year when we had our whole crowd going. I thought our fans would boo. I didn’t realize it was going to be that loud when I face Harp. That was a playoff atmosphere. Everything gets turned up a notch when the fans get into it.”

Scherzer threw 22 pitches, 13 for strikes in two innings. He allowed a single and struck out two batters he’s unlikely to ever face again. Otherwise, he was nonplussed to face the Astros in a game rain forced to pause, then stop, after two innings and a head-scratching delay.

“We won the World Series,” Scherzer said. “It wasn’t like I have a vendetta to hold. So, for me, over here we’re just trying to move forward and get ready for our season.”

Baker thought the reception went as expected.

“There were a lot of Nationals fans here,” Baker said. “We had a lot of fans here, too. You could tell who was for us and who was against us. All in all, it wasn’t too bad. You kind of expect to get some. But they weren’t too bad, though.”

So, the night ultimately served as the expected start. Scherzer pitched well. The Astros were booed.

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Astros booed, fans' signs taken in spring training opener against Nationals

Astros booed, fans' signs taken in spring training opener against Nationals

As if this week hadn’t already been bad enough for the Houston Astros, it got a bit worse on Saturday afternoon when they faced the Washington Nationals in the spring training opener. 

The Astros took the field at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and were welcomed by the fans with an eruption of boos. The two teams share the facility, but it was Houston's home game. 

Since 2017 Washington and Houston have shared their spring training facility in West Palm Beach and made it a tradition to kick off their respective Grapefruit League schedules against each other. They will play six times this spring - though Saturday's opener was postponed by rain after a scoreless two innings. 

One courageous fan really got into the act, holding up a sign reading "Houston *'s" that was eventually confiscated by ballpark personnel, according to the Associated Press.

If this start is any indication of what they will face throughout this season, it's going to be a long 2020 for the Astros. 

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