After yesterday’s bullpen meltdown, the Nationals really needed Stephen Strasburg to throw an 8-inning gem, and he delivered just that while going 8.0 innings and yielding 1 earned run on just 4 hits and no walks. Stras turned over the game to his All-Star closer, Sean Doolittle, who quickly closed out the game on just seven pitches although there were was an umpiring delay between pitches which added to the drama of the game. The D.C. offense jumped on Jon Lester early and knocked him out at 4 1/3 innings. With this Nationals win in this game 5-2 game, it was Brian Dozier and Juan Soto providing the much needed bulk of the RBIs.
That 9th inning drama started when Cubs manager Joe Maddon came out of his dugout to protest the game as he complained about Doolittle’s double tapping with his left foot on the delivery. That charade did not rattle Doolittle, and it seemed to inspire him.
“It was a thinly veiled attempt to throw me off my game. In that moment, [Maddon’s] not trying to do anything other than rattle me,” Doolittle said. “And it was kind of tired. I don’t know, sometimes, he has to remind people how smart he is, and how much he pays attention to the game. So he put his stamp on it, for sure.”
“[Maddon] thought [Doolittle] was tapping his foot, which in itself is not illegal,” homeplate umpire Sam Holbrook told a pool reporter. “And this all kind of stems from [Edwards earlier in the season] being called on something that was a little bit different than what Doolittle was doing. So in our judgement, Doolittle did nothing illegal at all.”
Maddon’s little stunt delayed the game for several minutes with two stoppages in the game which included a call to New York. In the end, Holbrook signaled to the official scorer that the game was under protest. The applicable rule is OBR 5.07(a): “A pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot.” While the ruling is open to interpretation, Doolittle’s fate might be determined by MLB later in the week.
“I actually have to thank [Maddon],” Doolittle said. “After they came out the second time, the Schwarber at-bat, I threw two fastballs and a slider and a fastball to Bryant, and those are probably the best ones I’ve thrown in a while. I don’t do the tap when there’s somebody on base so I can keep my pickoff move available if I need it. I’ve had a lot of traffic recently, so I’ve had practice doing it. So, it wasn’t like a huge adjustment to me and, I don’t know, in a way I kind of need to thank him.”
Like last night, the Nationals had 13 RISP opportunities, but this time the Nats had 4 RISP hits which is an improvement over the 3 the team had last night. The difference here was great pitching and near-perfect defense except for two passed balls. Strasburg was the star of the game and very efficient with his pitch count as he finished with 93 pitches over his 8 innings. There was no debate with his manager as to whether Stras would come out for the 9th inning and face the heart of the order for the fourth time. It was the second time this season he completed 8 innings which he also accomplished in a 5-0 win on April 21st in Miami.
“I think it’s important that you focus on the now and you focus on that one pitch that you got to make,” Strasburg said. “You go as long as you can until Davey takes the ball out of my hand.”
Speaking of Davey Martinez, he managed this game well, and the only controversial play was who ordered the “code red” when Adam Eaton was on first base with no outs and Trea Turner on third base? Eaton took off in what looked like a botched play, and he was tagged out in a rundown. Who put on that play or did Eaton do this on his own? We can handle the truth. The Nats would eventually score 3-runs in that third inning, but they could have possibly scored more.
The Nationals ended two Cubs streaks as Javy Baez’s hitting streak ended and Kris Bryant‘s on-base streak ended. Great pitching beat great hitting in this game. In fact, Bryant hit three home runs against the Nats on Friday night.
The crowd was almost a sell-out at 37,582 fans of both teams, and the Nats fans were the more vocal group tonight as they had the most to cheer about while also voicing their displeasure towards Joe Maddon in the ninth inning and support of Sean Doolittle as you could hear boos and “Doo” mixed together.
With this win the Nationals tied up this series at one game each. Tomorrow’s D.C. series finale is the ESPN game of the week. Sunday is also Victor Robles‘ birthday, and a source has told us that Robles is feeling much better and will ask to be in the starting line-up.