MORRISSEY: Strasburg overcomes slings, arrows, sickness to beat Cubs
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A city was waiting for him. A moldy, air-conditioned, ill-weathered city was waiting for Stephen Strasburg.
Some Cubs fans had even arrived at Wrigley Field on Wednesday wearing respirator masks. That was in mocking response to Dr. Dusty Baker, who had said that mold, hotel air conditioning and Chicago’s temperamental weather had left the Nationals right-hander sick and unavailable for Game 4 of their National League Division Series against the Cubs.
Former Cubs backup catcher David Ross had ripped Strasburg on national TV, diagnosing his ailment as “the sniffles’’ and saying he wouldn’t have been able to make eye contact with him if they had been teammates. Social media, meanwhile, was at its cruelest.
What a delicate flower Strasburg was!
Except that he wasn’t. He was an oak tree for the Nationals and, worse for the Cubs, one with three devastating pitches. Because of him, and him alone, this series is going back to Washington on Thursday for a one-game showdown to decide who gets to face the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series.
All Strasburg did was strike out the side three times in a 5-0 Nats victory. He finished with 12 strikeouts in seven innings. He allowed three hits.
Cubs hitters swung and missed 22 times out of 106 pitches. That’s an ungodly number of bats slicing air. That’s a 12-year-old who shaves daily chopping down Little League hitters.
I don’t know if a series shifted. I do know someone’s stature did.
“Games like this, you have to go out there and give what you have, whatever it is,’’ Strasburg said.
Tanner Roark was supposed to pitch Game 4 on Tuesday. But that game was rained out, giving the Nationals the opportunity to start Strasburg on full rest. That’s when the eye-rolling silliness began, with Baker, the manager, saying Strasburg was under the weather with mold-induced issues and wouldn’t be pitching.
But Strasburg called pitching coach Mike Maddux on Wednesday morning and said he felt better. Nats general manager Mike Rizzo met with the media early in the afternoon and said that Strasburg would indeed start, while also revealing that he had been suffering from fever, chills and sinusitis.
No one knows why the Nationals didn’t initially come out and say exactly what was bothering Strasburg. Everybody understands what flulike symptoms are. Nobody understands a mold diagnosis, except in the context of implied wussiness.
This wasn’t Michael Jordan’s Flu Game in baseball spikes, but it was pretty good.
Strasburg was up against a lot, including derision, misinformation and what he called a virus that “sucked the life out of me every single day.’’
Did he feel like he had something to prove after all the criticism he had taken the previous 24 hours?
“Not to you guys,’’ he told media members afterward.
As for Ross, I’m guessing Strasburg would find it hard to look a career .229-hitting catcher in the eye, ever.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon had another tough game, pulling an effective Jon Lester in the eighth after 3 2/3 innings of relief, watching Carl Edwards Jr. throw a wild pitch and walk two batters, then bringing in closer Wade Davis, who gave up a grand slam.
Other Cubs had bad games, too, but at least some of them could use Strasburg’s heartless changeup as an excuse. Kris Bryant struck out in all four of his plate appearances. Addison Russell had an error at shortstop that led to Washington’s first run, in the third.
It was a rotten day for baseball, with the game-time temperature at 59 and sheets of mist blowing in from right field, thanks to 16 mph winds.
Strasburg certainly benefitted from that. Human hands do not take kindly to a 95 mph fastball hitting a bat on a cool day. But Cubs starter Jake Arrieta pitched in the same conditions, and he was gone after four innings and five walks.
Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs’ best pitcher, will start Thursday against Roark or Gio Gonzalez.
“Whoever it is, I hope they pitch like Strasburg did,’’ Baker said.
Good luck with that.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.