Sep 26, 2015, 7:58 PM EDT
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: The Nationals came to the ballpark on Saturday with a matchup against the lowly Philadelphia Phillies, knowing their elimination number for the playoffs sat at just one game. Their season stood on its last leg, despite nine games remaining and their preseason expectations of a World Series title.
That end would come, as the Mets dispatched the Reds to clinch the NL East in a 10-2 blowout. But none of that fazed Stephen Strasburg, who continued his recent run of brilliance with another dominant start, one that didn’t see a Phillies batter reach base until the fifth inning.
And not of that fazed Bryce Harper, who delivered with a walk-off double in the 12th inning. It was a thrilling victory for the Nationals, despite the day ending in an overall net defeat.
Strasburg finished with 13 strikeouts and only one walk, with one run allowed on three hits. It was another gem for Strasburg, though he did not earn the win.
The Nats’ offense was a big reason for that. They had major trouble with Phillies starter Aaron Nola, who tossed five scoreless innings on 67 pitches. Nola was taken out for a pinch-hitter in the top of the sixth after he allowed four hits over the previous two frames.
The Nationals would get to the Phillies bullpen, with help from an awful outing by Phillies reliever Adam Loewen. Loewen walked two batters and sent Bryce Harper to third on two wild pitches before Ian Desmond scored Harper on a groundout off his replacement, Jeanmar Gomez. That gave the Nats their first run in the fifth inning.
The Nationals won, but it wasn’t enough to delay their inevitable demise in the playoff race.
HITTING LOWLIGHT: The Nats had their best shot against Nola in the fourth inning when Harper, Jayson Werth and Clint Robinson all singled with no outs. That brought up Ian Desmond, who struck out looking, which is never a good thing to do in that situation. Matt den Dekker then lined out to second base and Wilson Ramos grounded out to to third to end the inning.
That was the lowlight, but the Nats did break through in the sixth inning thanks to a terrible performance by Loewen. Loewen walked Harper to lead off the inning, then moved him all the way to third on two wild pitches. He then walked Werth before the Phillies pulled him for Gomez. Gomez got Robinson to line out to second base for the first out, but allowed Harper to score right after that on a slow grounder to third base by Desmond.
It took the Nats another six innings to get their second run.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Strasburg entered Saturday having tossed 37 strikeouts to only three walks in his previous three starts. That trend continued, as Strasburg recorded his fourth consecutive double-digit strikeout game – three of them with 13 or more – and the 21st such outing of his career.
Strasburg again put in one of his best starts as a pro. He had 13 strikeouts with one walk and three hits allowed on 101 pitches. It was the fifth time this season Strasburg has had at least 10 strikeouts. It was just his second career complete game, as he also shut out the Phillies
After his last start, Strasburg had lowered his season ERA to below that of Gio Gonzalez. On this day he passed Jordan Zimmermann (3.68), finishing at 3.63. Given how poor Strasburg pitched earlier in the year – he had a 6.55 ERA at the end of May – that turnaround is quite remarkable. It makes you wonder what could have been if he were healthy all season, as minor injuries derailed the first four months of his 2015 campaign.
KEY STAT: Harper’s walk to lead off the sixth inning was his 123rd of the season, which tied Ken Singleton’s franchise record set back in 1973 with the Montreal Expos.
UP NEXT: The Nationals and Phillies close out their series with their final matchup of the 2015 regular season. It will be a 1:35 p.m. start with Gio Gonzalez (11-8, 3.94) and Aaron Harang (6-15, 4.93) on the mound.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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