WASHINGTON, D.C. – It was a beautiful fall night in the Nation’s capitol Monday as the hometown Washington Nationals looked to take a commanding 3-0 lead over the visiting St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS.
Game 3 featured a star-studded matchup of powerful righties on the mound as the Cardinals’ ace Jack Flaherty (11-8, 2.75) faced off against Stephen Strasburg (18-6, 3.32). The Nationals, fresh off of taking Games 1 and 2 in St. Louis, were poised to take a commanding 3-0 lead with Strasburg, taking a 2-0 record in this postseason to go along with an ERA of 2.40 (nearly a run lower than his regular season ERA), to the mound.
Nationals Park erupted with thunderous approval was Strasburg made quick work of Cardinals in the 1st inning with a weak comebacker from Kolton Wong sandwiched between strike outs of Dexter Fowler and Paul Goldschmidt on an economical 10 pitches. Strasburg said of his fast first inning and if he used it to springboard the rest of his start, he said “You just try and take it one pitch at a time and go as long as you can.” Flaherty matched Strasburg with his own scoreless opening frame, getting through the inning on only 17 pitches, while working around 2-out walk to Anthony Rendon by striking Juan Soto out looking.
The Cards’ Gold Glove left fielder, Marcell Ozuna, came into the game with great career numbers against Strasburg. Ozuna faced him regularly while on the Miami Marlins and was 14 for 44 (.318) with 3 home runs off the big right hander, accounting for the only career homers against Stras on the Cardinals roster. Ozuna picked up where he left off and roped a 2-strike double down the left field line leading off the 2nd inning. Strasburg buckled down, catching Ozuna between 2nd and 3rd on Jose Martinez’ fielders choice, getting Yadier Molina and Tommy Edman to pop out. The 2nd inning was slightly less economical (19 pitches) but Strasburg had made it through the first two innings unscathed and had thrown less than 30 pitches to do so.
Strasburg kept rolling in the 3rd, getting the first out of the inning thanks to a diving stop robbing Paul DeJong of possible extra bases. He then proceeded to strike out Flaherty and then Fowler for a second time bringing his total to 4 and getting through the first 3 frames on just 46 pitches.
Victor Robles, back in the starting line up for the first time in 10 days while nursing a strained hamstring, led off the 3rd with the Nationals’ first hit of the night. Strasburg bunted Robles to 2nd, helping his own cause, and giving the Nats their first base runner in scoring position. After Turner struck out on a foul tip, Adam Eaton singled home Robles to put the Nationals on top, 1-0, and break the scoreless tie. The Nats weren’t done and Rendon doubled in Eaton when the aforementioned Gold Golver Ozuna was unable to come up with a tough sliding catch in left. NLDS Game 5 hero, Howie Kendrick, blew the game open with a 2-run double to cap the Nats’ 4-run 3rd inning.
After his offense gave hime 4 runs to work with, Strasburg came out and put another goose egg on the board in the 4th. He was able to work around back to back 2-out singles from his nemesis, Ozuna, and Martinez, by getting Molina to fly out to centerfield to escape the jam. He was through 4 innings on 66 pitches and had struck out 5.
Strasburg’s 5th inning of work was more of the same. He started the inning by making Tommy Edman look silly, striking him out on 3 pitches. Jack Flaherty’s night was over after just 4 innings and just 78 pitches, as Matt Carpenter pinch hit for him and proceeded to strike out. One could argue Flaherty could have done that. Dexter Fowler continued to look lost at the plate, flying out to Soto in shallow right field. Strasburg’s domination continued as he was through 5 innings, with 7 strikeouts, on 80 pitches.
Howie Kendrick added another run for Washington in the 5th inning as he doubled in Rendon from 1st base with 2-outs. That gave the Nats a 5-0 lead over the Cardinals and they weren’t done there. Ryan Zimmerman doubled in Kendrick with a line drive to the gap in LCF and the Nationals continued to roll, leading 6-0 after 5.
Kendrick would finish the night with 3 doubles, marking his first 3 double game since 2008. When asked how badly Howie wants a World Series, manager Davey Martinez said “He wants it, and the rest of his teammates feed off of that, and they see it.” He added “we are all big fans of Howie” and with good reason, from Game 5’s grand slam against LA to the first 3 games of this series he has been a huge part of their postseason success.
Strasburg took that 6-0 lead and continued to run with it. He notched 2 more strikeouts, including one Ozuna to end the 6th, bringing his total to 9 Ks. Stephen Strasburg was through 6 innings in Game 3 on 90 pitches.
Victor Robles homered leading off the 6th inning and the Nationals lead was up to a touchdown, 7-0, and the Nationals looked like they were putting not only Game 3 out of reach, but the NLCS as well.
Strasburg came out to start the 7th inning, but walked Jose Martinez to start and gave up a single to Molina. He was at 101 pitches but Davey Martinez elected to keep his starter in. Strasburg rewarded his manager’s confidence with a strike out of Tommy Edman. After Soto allowed Jose Martinez to score on a throwing error after slipping fielding a single and the score was 7-1, the Nets’ skipper still left his hurler in. Again, he was rewarded as Strasburg struck out pinch hitter (and former battery mate) Matt Wieters as well as Dexter Fowler for his 11th and 12th strikeouts of the night. He also finished the 7th at 117 pitches, his high for the season, passing his previous high this year of 115.
Martinez said after the game that Strasburg “didn’t want to come out of the game…he said, ‘I’m staying in the game.'” Davey also added that after he asked for confirmation that Stras was all right, he said “I’M IN THE GAME!” When Strasburg was asked about the mound meeting after the game he said “[Davey] just had to come out there and check on me, and I told him I was good.” Whatever the conversation, the results were clear…This was Stras’ game.
The Nationals got the run right back in the bottom of the 7th when Zimmerman single in Kendrick with 2-outs the bring the lead back to 7 runs, 8-1.
Strasburg’s night was over after 7 stellar innings in a pitching performance for the ages in the arguably the biggest game in Nationals Park history. He finished with a line of 7 IP, 7 H, 0 ER, 12 K, 0 BB. Twelve strikeouts is feat in itself, but to be able to do it without walking anyone is truly remarkable and testament to just how locked in he was Monday night. He gave his team this epic start to bring them to the edge of being one win away from the World Series, a feat that seemed light years away when the team was 19-31 in May. He downplayed his performance some postgame, saying “My job is to go out there and go as long as I can and keep it close. Guys scored some runs tonight, and we came out on top.”
Fernando Rodney relieved Strasburg and came in to pitch the 8th inning in mop up duty. He was able to make quick work of the Cardinals with a 1-2-3 8th, including 2 more strikeouts and maintained his 0.00 postseason ERA, a big improvement over his 5.66 regular season ERA. Tanner Rainey then finished the game for Washington, hitting 101 mph multiple times.
The Washington Nationals prevailed over the Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLCS, 8-1, to take a commanding 3-0 series lead. Tuesday the Nats will look to sweep their first ever NLCS and advance the World Series for the first time since the 1933 when the Washington Senators lost in 5 to the New York Giants. Read that again and let it sink in.
Patrick Corbin will be on the mound opposite Dakota Hudson. First pitch set for 8:05 pm.