If you blinked, you probably missed the slightest of smiles that flickered across Stephen Strasburg’s face as he stepped off the mound after the Washington Nationals’ (57-60) 6-0 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies (52-65).
Strasburg had just closed the book on the first complete-game shutout of his career, and true to form, he hardly showed any emotion as 32 thousand fans showered him with cheers of congratulations and his teammates showered him with Gatorade.
Though Strasburg didn’t openly celebrate his outing, his sparkling performance spoke for itself.
Strasburg struck out 10 batters, but needed only 99 pitches to get all 27 outs. He gave up four hits and one walk, but never allowed a runner to reach scoring position. Manager Davey Johnson said he hadn’t seen Strasburg throw that hard all year, despite tweaking his groin in the second inning.
Many of Strasburg’s impressive outings this season have come with a criminal lack of run support from the offense. But on Sunday, the Nats came through for their ace, dominating Philadelphia for the third day in a row to earn their first-ever home sweep of the Phillies.
The offense collected 13 hits, and capitalized on their accomplishments, going 5-for-13 with runners in scoring position. Jayson Werth – who Johnson called “a shining example of how we need to hit” – had his second consecutive three-hit night. Steve Lombardozzi also went 3-for-4, and reached base safely in all four plate appearances.
Werth slapped his 1,001st hit to center field to bring home the first run of the game in the second inning, and the Nationals scored two more in the fourth on singles from Wilson Ramos and Denard Span.
They loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth inning against Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick. Three runs and two poor defensive plays later, they knocked him from the game.
To start the inning, Werth and Ian Desmond hit back-to-back singles, and Adam LaRoche walked. Ramos hit a ground ball up the middle for what should have been the first out, but second baseman Chase Utley’s throw to the plate came up short, allowing Werth to score.
Desmond noticed catcher Erik Kratz couldn’t find the ball right away, and made the bold decision to run home, putting the Nats up, 6-0.
Aggressive yet smart playing like that is what Johnson has been looking for from his team all year. Though it is probably too late in the season to expect a dramatic turnaround, the Nationals are on the right track to finishing the year on a high note.