Last week the Nationals defeated the Astros in Houston, Texas, to claim their first World Series championship in franchise history.
By all accounts and measurements, the Houston Astros were the better team. They had won more games throughout the whole season than any team in MLB, including the Nationals. They finished with .660 percent of games won compared to the National’s .574 percent. The Astros constantly had both good starting and relief pitching with team average E.R.A.s of 3.61 and 3.75. By comparison, the Nationals bullpen’s combined E.R.A. was 5.66, the highest E.R.A. any team in the postseason had ever had. The Astros had also recently won the World Series in 2017 and have retained a large portion of that rooster.
The Washington Nationals, on the other hand, entered the Fall Classic as a wild card, a spot they secured by winning a nail biter 4-3 game against the Milwaukee Brewers. While they had an impressive fan base who were determined to #FinishTheFight, a strong starting pitcher lineup with a combined E.R.A. of 3.53, and star hitters such as Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon,
very few expected them to win.
When the Nationals won the first two games of the World Series, which were played in Houston, baseball fans were astonished; many baseball fans were wondering if the Nationals were going to win the next two games and sweep the Series. The next three games were scheduled to be in D.C. on the Nationals’ home turf and all they had to do to clinch the series was win two out of three games. Instead, they lost them all.
And they didn’t just lose them, they badly lost them. The Nationals averaged only one and a third runs per those three games compared to five and twelve runs in the first two games respectively. Their pitching was also subpar; the starting pitchers weren’t as strong as they needed to be and the relievers were mostly ineffective. In Game Four, one of the Nationals’ better relievers, Fernando Rodney, gave up a grand slam, and in Game Five, relievers gave up three runs in the last two innings. It was a massively disappointing home showing for Nationals fans.
After a pitiful performance in Game Five, many baseball fans were convinced the Nationals had lost the series.
And then Steven Strasburg happened.
Strasburg is one of the Nationals’ star starting pitchers, alongside Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin. He had already pitched a massively successful Game Two, and was scheduled to pitch Game Six, in a do-or-die moment for the team. In the first inning, he gave up two runs, giving the Astros the early lead and causing every Nationals fan to panic. However, pitching coaches for the Nationals soon realized Strasburg was tipping his pitches, which meant that the Astros batters were able to tell which pitch he was going to throw before he threw it. For most pitchers, this would have been it, yet Strasburg was able to correct his movements and went on to pitch into the ninth inning, pushing his team one game closer to a World Series Championship.
Strasburg was incredibly efficient with his pitching, getting himself out of several tight jams, and pitching over eight innings while only throwing 104 pitches. For reference, the average number of pitches in a nine-inning MLB game is 146. His performance won him the Most Valuable Player award.
While baseball is indubitably a team sport, there can be no question that Strasburg was key in carrying his team to victory. Not only did he keep the Astros from winning what would have been a series-ending game, he gave an inspired performance that rallied his team after three tough losses. While he wasn’t on the mound when the Nationals pulled ahead in inning seven of Game Seven to win the World Series, the team would not have made it there without him.