May 9, 2016: Strasburg signs extension; Clint Robinson hits a walk-off homer but doesn’t realize it

This article was written by Laura H. Peebles

Clint Robinson (TRADING CARD DB)The 27,153 fans attending the Washington Nationals’ game against the visiting Detroit Tigers were hoping that Stephen Strasburg could extend his unbeaten 5-0 record1 and end the Nationals’ four-game losing streak.

Before Strasburg could take the mound, though, there was some history to address. It was Jordan Zimmermann’s first time back at Nationals Park since he signed a five-year, $110 million free-agent deal with the Tigers in November 2015, which ended the right-hander’s strong seven-season run with the Nationals. A tribute video, including the final out of his 2014 no-hitter, celebrated Zimmermann’s time in Washington.

Reminders of the market for top-flight starting pitchers were all around. Besides the Zimmermann video, you could watch the pregame meet-up of Detroit’s Justin Verlander and Washington’s Max Scherzer, rotation anchors for four consecutive postseason teams in Detroit before a seven-year, $210 million contract lured Scherzer to DC in January 2015.2

And Strasburg, like Zimmermann during the previous offseason, was eligible for free agency after 2016. His career 59-37 record, including a 5-0 mark and 3.07 ERA so far in 2016 compared favorably with the 70-50 record and 3.34 ERA that had preceded Zimmermann’s lucrative deal. 3 Would 2016 be Strasburg’s last season with the Nationals? Would he be the subject of a future tribute video, the recipient of friendly greetings from former teammates?

As it happened, the answer came sooner than almost anyone expected, especially any of the fans seeing the Nationals return from a 10-game road trip that started well with a three-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals but ended with four straight losses to the Chicago Cubs.

For a pitcher hoping to be a stopper, Strasburg’s beginning was not promising. Ian Kinsler walked on four pitches. Two outs later, Nick Castellanos homered off the railing behind the flower bed in left field, giving Detroit a 2-0 lead (and adding to his league-leading .375 batting average4). The roar of the crowd revealed that there were a substantial number of Tigers fans in attendance.

Detroit’s Aníbal Sánchez (3-3, 5.87 ERA) pitched a quick bottom of the first with some help from his defense. Anthony Rendon hit a one-out popup that right fielder J.D. Martinez caught while sliding between shortstop José Iglesias and first baseman Miguel Cabrera.

Strasburg had no trouble with the bottom of the Tigers’ order in the second — two groundouts and a strikeout on nine pitches. All Sánchez allowed in the second was a seeing-eye single by Wilson Ramos.

Sánchez opened the third by flying out to right. Martinez ended his 0-for-18 slump with a two-out single to cheers from his bench. Strasburg allowed a single to Cabrera to put two on but struck out Castellanos to end the threat.

Strasburg increased his .214 BA with a one-out single in the third but was erased when Ben Revere grounded into a double play.

In the top of the fourth, Anthony Gose’s two-out hit rattled around in the right-field corner. He was thinking triple, but Bryce Harper’s strong throw to third held him at second. Nationals manager Dusty Baker walked Iglesias to pitch to Sánchez. The strategy paid off — Sánchez bunted to the right of the mound, but third baseman Rendon’s throw got him by a half-step.

Rendon walked to start the home half of the fourth, then stole second as Harper looked at strike three. Harper barked at home-plate umpire Brian Knight on his way back to the dugout, but there were no immediate consequences.5 Daniel Murphy’s liner into center scored Rendon to put the Nationals on the board, cutting the deficit to 2-1.

Nationals fans received some bad news and good news in the top of the fifth. On the unfavorable side, Martinez padded Detroit’s lead with a two-run homer into the visitors bullpen.

As that was happening, Nationals TV announcer Bob Carpenter read Tweets6 from several sources reporting an unexpected development: Strasburg had signed a seven-year extension with the Nationals. The Nationals had not yet announced the signing.7 As the word circulated on social media through the park the level of “buzz” in the stands increased noticeably, and Strasburg received a solid ovation when he batted in the bottom of the inning.

The Nationals drew closer in the sixth. Harper worked a one-out walk. Ryan Zimmerman grounded into what looked like an inning-ending double play but beat the throw to first by a step. Murphy’s homer pulled the Nationals within a run, 4-3. It also gave Murphy the major-league lead in batting average.8

Strasburg struck out the side in the seventh, giving him 11 strikeouts in the game.

The Nationals tied it up in the bottom of the seventh. Michael A. Taylor’s leadoff hit bounced off the left-field wall, but Justin Upton played the carom perfectly, holding Taylor at first. Taylor took a good lead, and got to third easily when Danny Espinosa singled.

Strasburg, whose pitch count was 103, was sent up to sacrifice. He bunted up the first-base line. Sánchez grabbed the ball just before it would have rolled foul, apparently intending to tag Strasburg in the baseline. But Sánchez dropped it as Strasburg ran by; all runners were safe. That ended Sánchez’s night, as he walked off the field muttering to himself under his breath.9

Lefty Kyle Ryan came in with the bases loaded and none out. Revere’s sacrifice fly tied the game, 4-4. Playing matchup baseball, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus switched to righty Alex Wilson. That worked out for Ausmus10 — Rendon struck out when he failed to check his swing in time. Harper was intentionally walked (to the boos of the crowd), and Zimmerman fouled out to first.

Strasburg returned to the mound for the eighth. He walked Cabrera on four pitches, none close to the zone. Baker may have wanted him to have the chance to earn the win, but after Cabrera walked, he pulled Strasburg for Blake Treinen. Strasburg exited to a standing ovation. Afterward, he said he realized the cat was out of the bag on his contract extension when a fan above the dugout yelled, “Congratulations!”11

Castellanos singled on Treinen’s first pitch. Cabrera hit the bag at third hard on his slide and came up limping. He stayed on the field but not for long — with Upton batting, he tried to advance on a wild pitch. Ramos quickly corralled the ball and threw to Rendon, who tagged Cabrera with the ball in his bare hand. The Tigers challenged the “out” call but the video review upheld the call on the field. Cabrera’s slide beat Rendon’s glove tag — but not the hand actually holding the ball.

After Upton looked at strike three,12 the Nationals walked pinch-hitter Victor Martinez. Once switch-hitting pinch-hitter Jarrod Saltalamacchia was announced, batting for Gose, Baker summoned lefty Felipe Rivero.13 Saltalamacchia worked the count full but struck out to strand the runners.

The bottom of the eighth and top of the ninth were over quickly — 17 total pitches and no baserunners.

The stage was set for a possible walk-off win for the Nationals. Espinosa looked at strike three near the top of the zone. The Nationals’ dugout disagreed loudly; umpire Knight chose to toss Harper14 (although everyone had been yelling).15

Relief pitcher Shawn Kelley was due up, and Baker sent up Clint Robinson, who had been preparing for a pinch-hitting opportunity by hitting in the cages. He knew the pitcher’s spot was coming up, so stayed near his manager in case he was needed. Baker told him, “Big boy, get up there and end it.”16

Robinson took one pitch from Mark Lowe, then hit the second one high to right, just over the railing and into the stands.

Mistaken about the inning, Robinson thought it was the eighth, and that he had merely hit a go-head homer. He realized it was a walk-off only when he rounded third and saw his teammates (including the ejected Harper17) waiting for him at home plate.18

Since the ball had bounced back onto the field, the umpires reviewed the play. The review caused a few seconds delay before Screech, the Nationals’ mascot, could run onto the field with the “Nats Win” flag. No one else waited to celebrate — the fans and the players were sure from the moment the ball cleared the fence atop the right-field scoreboard.19

It went down as a no-decision for Strasburg, but the seven-year, $175 million extension reported during the game and officially announced a day later had much broader implications. Strasburg was now a National for the long haul, a mainstay on a team with a lot of October play in its future.20


Two years younger than Zimmermann, the 27-year-old Strasburg had a lot in common with his former teammate. Drafted and developed by the Nationals as the franchise emerged from a low period, both had survived Tommy John surgery and returned to pitch well. As they met on the field pregame in May 2016, their career tracks looked similar, but the baseball gods declared otherwise.

Strasburg blossomed after the extension. From 2016 through 2019, he put up a 58-21 record and finished in the top five of the NL Cy Young Award voting twice.

It culminated in 2019, when Washington won the franchise’s first-ever World Series championship. Strasburg earned Series MVP honors, his five postseason wins leading a star-studded rotation that also included Scherzer — and Aníbal Sánchez, Strasburg’s mound opponent the night everyone learned about the contract extension that forever altered his destiny, and the Nationals’ destiny along with it.21

Zimmermann’s future was not as bright. Although he had a 1.10 ERA and a 5-1 record as he viewed the tribute video, he finished 2016 with a 9-7 record and a 4.87 ERA. His five-year tenure in Detroit resulted in a 25-41 record and a 5.63 ERA. He attempted a comeback with the Brewers in 2021 but had to retire.22


Author’s Note

We were at this game, celebrating both Zimmermann’s visit and Robinson’s walk-off. Of course we didn’t know about his confusion until after the game — we were just glad he finished it off and we weren’t there for six hours as we had been two weeks earlier.



This article was fact-checked by Bruce Slutsky and copy-edited by Len Levin.



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted the and websites for pertinent material and the box scores noted below, and viewed the recorded MASN TV broadcast on



1 Although he had a no-decision in this game, he was not charged with a loss until July 21, after 13 wins (with four no-decisions along the way).

2 Two days later, on May 11, it was Scherzer’s turn to pitch, and he outdueled Zimmermann in a 3-2 Nationals win, while tying a major-league record with 20 strikeouts.

3 Zimmermann finished in the top 10 in Cy Young Award voting in 2013 and 2014. His seven-year tenure with the Nationals resulted in a 70-50 record with a 3.32 ERA. He pitched the Nationals’ first no-hitter. Strasburg, drafted two years after Zimmermann, had finished once in the top 10 for the Cy Young Award. He had a similar winning percentage (54-37 record) but a slightly lower ERA (3.09) over his first six seasons.

4 At the end of the game he was batting .380. He finished the year at .285 — respectable, but not in the top 10.

5 Harper might have been a little frustrated, since he went 1-for-4 in the four games in Chicago — with 13 walks and a hit-by-pitch. Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s approach resulted in some baseball history. Mike Huber, “May 8, 2016: Nationals’ Bryce Harper reaches base seven times without an official at-bat, but Cubs win,”

6 Per Carpenter later in the broadcast, Chelsea Janes was the original reporter who broke the story. The contract was for seven years, $175million, with deferrals, opt-outs after three or four years, and a signing bonus. Byron Kerr, “Strasburg Agrees to Seven-Year, $175 Million Extension with Nats,”, May 9, 2016. Retrieved March 17, 2022.

7 The Nationals had planned to announce it the next day. Chelsea Janes, “Stephen Strasburg Signs Seven-Year, $175 Million Extension with Nationals,”, May 9, 2016. Retrieved May 13, 2022.

8 He finished the day at .398. Although he finished the year in second place with a .347 BA, his .595 SLG and .985 OPS led the league.

9 The play was scored as a sacrifice and an error.

10 For 2016, 21 percent of Ryan’s inherited runners scored, but 39 percent of Wilson’s inherited runners scored.

11 James Wagner and Adam Kilgore, “No One Expected a Stephen Strasburg Extension. Then Scott Boras Made a Call,”, May 12, 2016. Retrieved March 17, 2022.

12 After this game he led the major leagues in strikeouts with 50. He finished the year third in the AL with 179.

13 After 2017 he changed his name to Felipe Vázquez.

14 It was Harper’s first ejection in 2016, the seventh in his career. He was ejected once more in 2016 and did not lead the league in ejections (unlike the previous and subsequent years, when he did — with three in 2015 and two again in 2017).

15 Byron Kerr, “Harper on Potential Fine for Post-Ejection Antics: ‘I’ll Pay It,’”, May 9, 2016. Retrieved March 17, 2022.

16 Byron Kerr, “Robinson Hits Walk-off Homer, Thought It Was Eighth Inning,”, May 10, 2016. Retrieved March 17, 2022.

17 Kerr, “Harper on Potential Fine for Post-ejection Antics: ‘I’ll Pay It.”

18 Kerr, “Robinson Hits Walk-off Homer, Thought It Was Eighth Inning.”

19 Robinson’s brief major-league career ended after the 2016 season, as he transitioned to scouting after spending 2017 in the minors. This was the only walk-off home run of his career. Mark Zuckerman, “Tracking Down Some Former Nationals Position Players,”, November 30, 2017. Retrieved March 17, 2022.

20 Within a week of this game, the Nationals, who had fallen out of first place in the NL East after being swept in Chicago, regained the top spot. They finished eight games up to win the division but lost the NLDS to the Los Angeles Dodgers, three games to two. The Tigers clawed their way from fourth to second in the division, but did not qualify for the wild card.

21 After the 2019 World Series, Strasburg exercised the opt-out in his 2016 contract and signed a new seven-year contract with the Nationals. Jenna West, “Stephen Strasburg and Nationals Agree to Seven-Year Deal,”, December 9, 2019. Retrieved March 17, 2022.

22 Steve Adams, “Jordan Zimmermann Retires,”, May 11, 2021. Retrieved May 21, 2022.

Additional Stats

Washington Nationals 5
Detroit Tigers 4

Nationals Park
Washington, DC


Box Score + PBP:

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