The Nationals clinched their fourth division title in six years late this afternoon, and all it took was Stephen Strasburg extending his scoreless innings streak to 34, a lineup of rookies and second-stringers pulling off a 3-2 win over the Phillies and the Braves rallying with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the Marlins and ultimately win in the 11th as several thousand fans celebrated 641 miles away on South Capitol Street.
Suffice it to say, this wasn’t your typical clinch. But it was no less exciting for those who stuck around more than an hour after the Nationals wrapped up their win to wrap up another National League East title.
Strasburg was the star of the game here in town, going eight scoreless innings on 108 pitches to set a new franchise record for consecutive zeroes. The right-hander then joined his teammates in watching the final three innings of the Marlins-Braves game at SunTrust Park from the clubhouse at Nationals Park while fans watched the drama unfold on the scoreboard.
The few thousand from the original crowd of 32,627 waited around and did the unthinkable, cheering Freddie Freeman hits and performing the Tomahawk Chop as the Braves tried to rally from three runs down in the ninth. They erupted when Rio Ruiz’s two-out single to left brought home the tying run and eventually sent that game into extra innings. They groaned when Giancarlo Stanton slammed into the right field wall to make a great catch in the 10th.
And then, a full 95 minutes after the game here in town ended, they celebrated as Lane Adams launched a walk-off homer in Atlanta, turning the Nationals into NL East champions again.
Strasburg is in absolutely peak form right now, just when his team needs it. He has now tossed 34 consecutive scoreless innings, a new franchise record. He has allowed only two of the last 159 batters he has faced to drive in runs (Eugenio Suárez’s solo homer in Cincinnati on July 17, Yangervis Solarte’s two-run homer in San Diego on Aug. 19).
Along the way, Strasburg has lowered his season ERA from 3.43 to 2.64 and firmly established himself as one-third of the best pitching trio in the National League, alongside Max Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez.
With his team playing its 21st game in 20 days, Dusty Baker decided to sit nearly all of his regulars, deciding 48 hours of rest was more valuable at this point than going all-in to try to clinch the division today.
Baker, of course, still had Strasburg on the mound against a young and swing-happy Phillies lineup. And that proved a potent combination for the Nats right-hander, who entered with a club record 26-inning scoreless streak and kept it going with a dominant performance that wasted no energy along the way.
Strasburg retired the side in the first on 11 pitches. He retired the side in the second on 11 pitches. He retired the side in the third on 12 pitches. The Phillies got a baserunner at last in the fourth, when Freddy Galvis drew a one-out walk, but Strasburg immediately erased it with a double-play grounder.
Maikel Franco’s one-out single to left in the fifth dashed any hope of a no-hitter, but Strasburg wasted no time finishing out the inning with no more damage. By the time he struck out Rhys Hoskins to end the seventh, he had thrown only 93 pitches, struck out 10 and set a new franchise record with 33 consecutive scoreless innings.
Strasburg went one more, pitching a scoreless eighth to end his afternoon on a high note. He then turned over the ninth to Ryan Madson, who gave up two runs but still closed it out for his first save since joining the Nationals in July.
Thanks to a dynamic power-speed combo in the bottom of the sixth, the Nats pitching staff was able to work with a lead.
Trea Turner led off the inning with a drive off the right-center field wall, motoring his way all the way to third base for a triple. Moments later, Adrián Sanchez blooped a double down the left field line, scoring Turner (who later homered) with the game’s first run. And then shortly after that, Victor Robles drove a ball to a similar spot in right-center as Turner did, and also raced all the way around to third base as Sanchez scored the inning’s second run. It would’ve been a triple for Robles (it was his first career hit, in any event), but because he over-slid the bag and was tagged out, the 20-year-old was credited with only a double.
No matter, Robles and his young teammates got a chance to play a big role in a big game for the big club, and then wait alongside everyone else to see if there would be a celebration at the end of the day.