As Stephen Srasburg’s starts in 2012 start to dwindle, each one offers new moments to savor. The right-hander was dominant again Sunday, pitching six innings of two-hit ball and striking out nine to regain the major league strikeout lead with 195, but the Nats still needed some late inning heroics to bail out a shaky bullpen in 4-3 win over St. Louis.
Ian Desmond delivered the go-ahead RBI single in the seventh inning, and Kurt Suzuki homered and drove in two runs to lead the Nats to a 3-1 series win over the visiting Cardinals. The team also claimed its 81st victory of the season, matching the most since the club moved to Washington from Montreal in 2005.
Middle man Sean Burnett continued his recent struggles, unable to hold a lead for the second consecutive game. The left-hander took over in the seventh with the Nats ahead 2-0, but allowed the Cards to tie the game on Daniel Descalso‘s two-run homer, a blast to right that scored Pete Kozma, who had singled with two out.
That set the stage for Desmond, who was 2-for-4, including his two-out, two-on single in the seventh against loser Lance Lynn (13-6). The hit scored Eury Perez, who pinch ran for Michael Morse after he singled off Lynn, also with two outs. After singles by Chad Tracy, starting at first for Adam LaRoche, and Desmond, Danny Espinosa followed with his third hit of the game, a single that scored Tracy and made it 4-2.
Ryan Mattheus (5-1) got the win by pitching out of the seventh after Burnett had allowed the tying runs, but allowed the Cardinals to close within 4-3 on Tony Cruz‘ RBI double in eighth. Tyler Clippard pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 29th save.
Strasburg breezed through his six innings, allowing only a two-out double to Matt Holliday in the first and a single by Holliday in the sixth. His only real trouble came in the fourth when Ryan Zimmerman airmailed a throw to first on a grounder by Allan Craig and David Freese drew Strasburg’s only walk of the game, both with one out. After a wild pitch put Craig on third, Bryan Anderson lofted a fly ball to Bryce Harper in right field for the second out. Craig tagged on the play, but Harper’s throw beat him to the plate by 10 feet and Suzuki easily tagged him to end the inning.
Suzuki then put the Nats ahead in the bottom of the inning by belting an 0-1 sinker from Cards starter Jake Westbrook over the left field wall for his second homer as a National. Suzuki made it 2-0 in the sixth with a one-out single that scored Desmond and chased Westbrook.
Champ of the Game: Strasburg. A day after the Cardinals bats awoke and belted Jordan Zimmermann and the Nats bullpen all over the park, the 23-year-old All-Star took it to the top-hitting team in the National League with another gem. He is now up to 156 1-3 innings on the season, and the team has said it will shut him down after 160-180 innings. That leaves Friday’s scheduled start against Miami and a Sept. 12 start against the New York Mets as possibly his last two games of 2012.
Chump of the Game: Burnett. Every reliever goes through some struggles at some point in a season but the left-hander’s breakdown at this time is troublesome. He usually gets the ball with the lead, after a quality start, and he usually needs to pitch just one inning. But in the past two games against the Cards, he has failed to make it out of that inning and has given up a total of four hits and three earned runs, all with two outs.
Unsung Hero: Desmond. Oh yeah, he’s back. After slumping upon return from the torn oblique that kept him out for most of July and August, he has multiple hits in four of his last five games and is now 8 for his last 19 (.421) with three RBIs.