In a game where the Washington Nationals defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks 9-1, their seventh consecutive win, the Stephen Strasburg shutdown debate nearly became more than an artificial sports media-created frenzy. After six somewhat uneven innings, 105 pitches, and an injury to home plate umpire Dale Scott that forced him to leave the game after a 10-minute delay, Strasburg (13-5, 2.90 ERA), had allowed a run and four walks, notched six strikeouts, and permitted a single hit.
Had Chris Johnson‘s RBI single in the fourth inning been an out, the Nationals star pitcher would have had a no-hitter, but been on pace to throw more than 130 pitches.
Controversy? Not according to Davey Johnson. He told the press after the game that he would have removed Strasburg even if the hit total read zero. Washington’s manager blamed himself for the one hiccup Strasburg experienced, allowing a walk and Johnson’s single after Scott’s injury. Johnson said the delay, “really affected him and it’s my fault. I feel bad because I should have known it was probably going to take 10 minutes and I let him stand there.”
Strasburg also battled a sore back that flared when he had to reach far to take Adam LaRoche‘s flip at first base in the 2nd inning. The delay made it stiffen more. Strasburg told the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore, “It got a little stiff, especially standing out there for a little bit. It happens. I wanted to go out there and grind through it.”
After battling Arizona’s fine pitcher Trevor Cahill (9-10, 3.85) for four innings and the game tied, 1-1, the Nationals took the lead. Lead off man Stephen Lombardozzi singed with one out and advanced to second on a Bryce Harper (who will sit out today’s game in favor of Tyler Moore) grounder. With two out, Ryan Zimmerman smashed his 16th homer deep into the left field bleachers for a 3-1 Washington lead. Cahill winced as he watched the ball fly.
Then, leading off the Nationals’ 6th, Michael Morse went into his Beast Mode.” He crushed a Cahill fastball deep to right center field. With no Justin Maxwell and Tal’s Hill to contend with, the ball soared well above the fence, more than 445 feet from home plate. According to ESPN’s home run tracker, Morse’s blast is the longest opposite field homerun of the 2012 season.
With a 4-1 lead, the Nats added five more, including four in the ninth inning to complete a rare stress free win, their 70th of the season. The Braves won easily over the Mets as well, so the Nationals lead remains 4.5 games, with 49 more to go.
After Strasburg departed, Sean Burnett, Ryan Mattheus, and Craig Stammen pitched three innings of shut out relief. Arizona’s only two hits came against Stammen, who pitched comfortably with an 8-run lead.
The win gives the Nationals five victories to start their 10-game road trip West. The Nationals road record (38-21) is five games better than any other team in baseball. Atlanta, 33-21, is next best.
Champ of the Game: Strasburg, who continues to pitch strong baseball after a normal post-surgery hiccup a few weeks ago.
For the D-Backs, Johnson went 1-4 with an RBI single.
Chump of the Game: Davey Johnson gets the self-appointed nod here for allowing Strasburg to stand on the mound and lose his edge, temporarily.
For Arizona, pitcher Mike Zagurski squashed all hope of a comeback by allowing four 9th inning runs.
Unsung Hero: Lombardozzi, who went 4-5 with a triple and scored four of Washington’s nine runs. He played his lead off hitter role to perfection.
Next Game: Today, August 11, 8:10 ET, Chase Field, Phoenix, Arizona. Edwin Jackson (6-7, 3.56) faces D-Backs star rookie Wade Miley (12-7, 2.85).