Ten years after he was drafted, nine years after making his major-league debut (in an event referred to as “Strasmas”), Stephen Strasburg (5-3, 3.19 ERA) took the mound at Nationals Park seeking his 100th career win. The White Sox (29-30, second in the AL Central but 11½ games behind the first-place Twins) were the opponents for an unusual two-game homestand. Strasburg had faced the White Sox only once before: They had handed him his first career loss on June 18, 2010.1
The White Sox pitcher, Reynaldo López, was a former National. He pitched 44 innings in 2016 before Washington traded him to Chicago, along with Lucas Giolito and Dane Dunning, for Adam Eaton.2 This was his first opportunity to face his former team. At 26-33, the Nationals were fourth in the NL East but just 6½ games behind front-running Philadelphia. After bottoming out with a 19-31 start on May 23, they had begun digging out of the hole by winning seven of their last nine games.
The day did not start well for Strasburg. Leury García grounded out, but Strasburg walked Yoán Moncada and plunked José Abreu on the arm. James McCann singled, scoring Moncada. Tim Anderson flied out for the second out. Eloy Jiménez singled past a diving Brian Dozier at second, scoring Abreu. Charlie Tilson walked on four pitches, loading the bases. Yolmer Sánchez’s single to left brought in two more runs.
Finally López bounced one to Dozier for the third out. It had taken Strasburg 39 pitches to get through the first inning3 and he’d put his team in a four-run hole. The Nationals were concerned enough that they’d had Kyle McGowin warming in the bullpen when Sánchez stepped in.
After an eight-pitch battle with García to start the second, Strasburg collected his first strikeout of the game. But Moncada followed with a solo homer halfway up the second deck for a 5-0 Chicago lead. That was all the damage, though: Abreu popped up on the infield and McCann struck out. McCann was Strasburg’s 100th strikeout of 2019.
In the bottom of the second, López hit Dozier on the forearm. He headed to first but wasn’t there long: Robles grounded into a double play. Dozier went down into the clubhouse as soon as he was off the field, although he returned to play the top of the third. Yan Gomes struck out to end the inning.
The top of the third looked more like typical Strasburg: A line out and two swinging strikeouts on 13 pitches.
The Nationals got on the board in an eventful bottom of the third. After Strasburg grounded out, López’s pitch to Trea Turner sailed over McCann’s mitt and hit plate umpire Mike Everitt in the heart. Everitt doubled over in pain. The Nationals’ trainer came running to check on him. Everitt stayed in the game – at least for the moment.
López walked Turner, balked him to second, and walked Eaton. Anthony Rendon, living up to his “Tony Two-Bags” nickname, doubled in Turner and Eaton to cut the deficit to 5-2. Soto grounded out. As Adams was striking out, Howie Kendrick stepped into the on-deck circle to pinch-hit for Dozier (whose arm x-rays were negative but he had to come out of the game4).
There was a long delay before the top of the fourth. Everitt left the game to get his heart checked,5 and Lance Barrett donned the plate umpire’s gear. Sánchez led off with a tapper back to Strasburg, who fumbled the ball, allowing Sánchez to reach. It was Strasburg’s second error of the year.
One out later, García grounded to Rendon at third. Attempting to start a double play, Rendon threw to Kendrick at second for the force play. Kendrick got the throw off to first as Sánchez slid into him, but García was safe. (The slide was legal, despite the hard contact.) With Moncada batting, Gomes made a perfect throw to Turner covering second, catching García stealing and keeping Chicago’s lead at three runs.
Kendrick pulled the Nationals one run closer with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the fourth. It landed several rows up in the Budweiser Loft seats in center.
Moncada resumed his at-bat in the top of the fifth by working the count full, then earning a walk. Abreu followed with a stand-up double off the out-of-town scoreboard in right; the White Sox had runners on second and third with none out. McCann grounded to Rendon at third, and the runners had to hold. Anderson grounded toward Adams at first: Adams charged the ball and chased Anderson back toward home plate, where Barrett called him out. Moncada and Abreu again stayed put. Strasburg struck out Jiménez to get out of the jam.
Perhaps López was tiring,6 perhaps it was the “third time through the order” effect. Either way, he started giving up hits in the Nationals fifth. Turner led off with a double. Eaton battled for nine pitches and got a walk. Rendon hit the first pitch for a home run, giving the Nationals the lead, 6-5.
Chicago manager Rick Renteria called in Josh Osich from the bullpen. He was not a solution: Adams hit a one-out double down the right-field line, then scored on Kendrick’s double down the left-field line. Victor Robles’ 423-foot homer over the center-field wall almost hit the bullpen cart in the holding area. Washington had surged to a 9-5 advantage.
Osich got the last two outs in the fifth, but the Nationals had sent nine men to the plate and six had scored. Michael A. Taylor pinch-hit for Strasburg, who was now the pitcher of record and in line for his 100th win.
Nationals reliever Matt Grace worked a one-two-three top of the sixth.
White Sox reliever José Ruiz was appearing in his 22nd career game. Oddly enough, he apparently wasn’t aware that white gloves weren’t permitted: Barrett sent him back to the dugout to get a black one. He did well enough with the black one: a strikeout, a groundout, and a walk. Jace Fry took over and walked Soto on four pitches, but got Adams to ground back to him for the third out.
Tanner Rainey, one of the Nationals’ more dependable relievers, struck out the first two batters in the seventh. He allowed a single to Abreu, but McCann flied out.
In the bottom of the seventh, Juan Minaya allowed only a double to Robles, who made it to second despite limping from fouling a ball off the top of his foot.
Wander Suero needed only nine pitches to get three outs in the top of the eighth. Minaya was almost as efficient in the bottom of the eighth, getting his three outs on 12 pitches.
Suero returned for the top of the ninth, trying to lock down the win for Strasburg. He allowed a single to Sánchez, and a one-out single to García. That put the tying run in the on-deck circle, making it a save situation.
Nationals manager Davey Martinez chose to bring in his closer, Sean Doolittle. Backed by the crowd chanting “Doooooo” in support, Doolittle struck out Moncada and got Abreu to pop up to end the game, closing out Strasburg’s 100th career win.
Strasburg was the first Nationals pitcher to reach 100 wins. He reached that milestone in just 219 games, tying him with Clayton Kershaw and CC Sabathia for the fourth fewest games to reach 100 among active players.7
Strasburg finished the year with an 18-6 record (3.32 ERA), taking fifth place in the Cy Young Award voting. More important to him, and his team, he had a historic 5-0 postseason record, winning Games Two and Six of the World Series, earning him the MVP award.
In addition to Baseball Reference, Retrosheet, and the sources cited in the Notes, the author reviewed the broadcast on mlb.com.
We attended the game, as it was Night Out (Gay Pride night). That explains the 32,513 attendance on a Tuesday night for an interleague game. The fans definitely held their breath after Everitt was hit by the pitch. A cheer went up when he stayed in the game – a rare cheer for an umpire.
1 The loss was his third career major-league game.
2 December 7, 2016.
3 His average pitch count in the first innings so far in 2019 had been 14.33.
4 Mark Zuckerman, “Lineup Delivers Another Big Rally as Nationals Stay Hot,” masn.com, June 4, 2019. masnsports.com/nationals-pastime/2019/06/lineup-delivers-another-big-rally-as-nationals-stay-hot.html.
5 He was able to return the next day, working third base for the second game of the series.
6 It was not unusual for López to throw around 100 pitches in a game. The previous game, though, he had thrown 118, a career high for him.
7 Jamal Collier,” Rendon, Bats Erupt to Get Strasburg 100th Win,” mlb.com, June 5, 2019. mlb.com/news/nationals-offense-rallies-for-stephen-strasburg-s-100th-win.