Stephen Strasburg (Trading Card DB)

October 29, 2019: Stephen Strasburg’s Game 6 gem pushes World Series to the limit

This article was written by Steven C. Weiner

You have a great year, and you can run into a buzz saw. Maybe this year, we are the buzz saw.” – Stephen Strasburg1


Stephen Strasburg (Trading Card DB)

It can’t be otherwise. You are writing a story about Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg and your mind, filled with baseball memories, wanders back to June 8, 2010. The atmosphere at Nationals Park was electric before the game even started. Why? After all, the home team was well on its way to finishing fifth and last again in the National League East Division after two worst-in-baseball records in 2008 and 2009.

The capacity crowd was there to watch the first overall draft pick in 2009 make his major-league debut, against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Strasburg delivered 14 strikeouts, a Nationals record that included the last seven Pirates he faced, for his first big-league win.2 Baseball Digest highlighted rookie debuts and rated Strasburg’s as the best “epic opening act … for sheer drama and intensity of spotlight.”3 Barry Svrluga, Washington Post columnist, ranked it among Washington’s seminal sports moments of this century.4

Fast forward to October 2019, past Strasburg’s 112 regular-season triumphs and the controversy of being withheld from the 2012 playoffs to protect his arm. The month is about to become the indelible marker of exhilaration and joy for the Nationals and their fans; and Strasburg’s contribution will surely be undeniable.

In the eighth inning on October’s very first day, a hit-by-pitch is challenged on the field, a bloop single leaves a shattered bat, a walk on a full count follows, and a lined single takes a funky little hop.5 The Nationals’ victory in the 2019 wild-card game against the Milwaukee Brewers was enabled by what turned out to be the only relief appearance of Strasburg’s career. He was called in from the bullpen and delivered three shutout innings of four-strikeout, two-hit ball for the victory. Wait, the story gets better!

Strasburg added a win over Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers to even the NL Division Series at one game apiece, striking out 10 and yielding only three hits in six innings. His six innings in Game Five took a back seat to the drama of Howie Kendrick’s game-winning grand slam in the 10th inning to eliminate the Dodgers and end the Nationals’ “NLDS curse.”6

Strasburg added another postseason victory when the Nationals completed a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Championship Series. It was another gem – seven innings, no earned runs, and 12 strikeouts. The Nationals had now won all three elimination games since 2017 in which Strasburg had been the starting pitcher.7  

The pitching matchup for Game Six of the World Series was a reprise of Game Two at Minute Maid Park – Strasburg vs. the Houston Astros’ Justin Verlander – under much different circumstances. Both pitchers were shaky in the first inning of Game Two, but they kept it a 2-2 game until the seventh inning. A hitting barrage in the late innings gave the Nationals and Strasburg a 12-3 win and a 2-0 Series lead.8 Now, after three straight losses at home, the Nationals and Strasburg faced Verlander again in Game Six, another elimination game as well. It was win or go home for the Nationals and a World Series title for the taking by the Astros!

The first inning of Game Six started as a near carbon copy of Game Two. Trea Turner opened with an infield single against Verlander. After Adam Eaton sacrificed Turner to second, Anthony Rendon drove in the first run with a single to center. In the bottom of the first, George Springer lined Strasburg’s first-pitch fastball to left for a double. Springer advanced to third on the very next pitch, a wild one, and scored on José Altuve’s sacrifice fly. Alex Bregman homered to left on a 2-and-0 fastball, carrying his bat toward first base and awkwardly dropping it in fair territory. The Astros had a 2-1 lead. Bregman later apologized for challenging one of the long list of baseball’s unwritten rules.9

What happened to Strasburg in that first inning? As it turned out, he was tipping his pitches, a problem he had encountered and fixed earlier in the season. The problem was solved before Strasburg took the mound for the second inning.10

Verlander and Strasburg each retired the side in order in the second, but tests soon awaited both hurlers. With two outs in the third, Verlander walked Eaton and Rendon on full counts, then induced Juan Soto into an inning-ending groundout to second. In the fourth, Kendrick opened with a single. With one out, Verlander walked Ryan Zimmerman, but managed to strike out Victor Robles and retire Yan Gomes on a fly ball to left to get out of the jam.

Strasburg suddenly lost his command with two outs and nobody on in the fourth inning. Throwing 10 balls in 11 pitches, he faced Carlos Correa and a hitter’s count, 2-and-0, with runners on first and second. Strasburg regained his form almost as quickly as it had disappeared, fanning Correa on three pitches.11

The fifth was Verlander’s downfall and his last inning of work. Solo home runs by Eaton and Soto gave the Nationals a 3-2 lead. Soto’s bat-carrying down to first base, imitating Bregman’s earlier trot, brought on the displeasure of Nationals manager Dave Martinez toward both incidents. Simply put, “We didn’t like it.”12

Strasburg’s challenge came in the bottom of the fifth inning with Altuve at the plate, called “the biggest pitch sequence of Strasburg’s career” by Washington Post writer Neil Greenberg.13 Two hits had put runners on second and third with one out, the Astros trailing by only one run.

Strasburg threw a changeup to Altuve for a strike. His curveball on the outside of the plate was fouled off for strike two. Altuve chased another breaking ball for strike three, having fanned on three pitches only 11 times in the regular season.14 Michael Brantley grounded out. Inning over! The Astros managed one more hit against Strasburg, Bregman’s infield single to open the sixth, which Strasburg followed by retiring the next 10 batters he faced.

But there were more fireworks to come. With Astro Brad Peacock in his second inning of relief, Gomes opened the seventh with a single to right. When Peacock fielded Turner’s tapper in front of the mound, his throw led first baseman Yuli Gurriel’s glove into Turner and the ball into right field. Plate umpire Sam Holbrook ruled that Turner was out for interference, and Gomes returned to first. The Nationals were irate at the call, but to no avail.

After a 10-minute delay, Will Harris replaced Peacock on the mound and retired Eaton on a pop to third. But the next batter, a “well-rested” Rendon, hit a two-run homer and the Nationals’ lead expanded to 5-2.15 When the inning ended, Martinez was still seething over Holbrook’s interference call and explanation, and a temper tantrum got him ejected. He became the first manager to be ejected from a World Series since 1996, when Atlanta’s Bobby Cox was banished to the clubhouse in Game Six.16

The Nationals added two insurance runs in the ninth with Chris Devenski pitching for the Astros. With two outs, Turner doubled to right and Eaton was hit by a pitch. Rendon’s double to center scored both runners. Nationals 7, Astros 2.

As for Strasburg, he pitched into the ninth and retired the first batter before being replaced by Sean Doolittle for the final two outs after 104 pitches. In another elimination game, Strasburg had done something no other World Series starting pitcher had done under those circumstances since Curt Schilling in 1993 – pitch at least 8⅓ innings and allow two or fewer runs.17

Ironically, the Nationals could thank Rendon, a Houston native, for supplying so much of the offense for this victory – three hits, including a homer and a double, and five runs batted in. He had been a baseball standout at Lamar High School and Rice University.18

Strasburg finished the World Series as its most valuable player with a 5-0 postseason record and the fourth-best career ERA in postseason history (1.46 in 55⅓ innings) among starting pitchers who have thrown at least 50 innings.19

And most importantly, Strasburg had gotten his team to the deciding Game Seven, creating the opportunity for a first. In the history of 1,420 best-of-seven series in MLB, the NHL, and the NBA, never had the road team won all seven games.20 Never?21 


Author’s note

Analytically speaking, how important was Game Six to the outcome of the Nationals’ 2019 championship run? The metric Championship Win Probability Added, developed by Sky Andrecheck, can be used to measure how much a particular play influenced the Nationals’ chances of winning the 2019 World Series.22 Analysis identified the top 12 postseason plays influencing the Nationals’ title run. The most significant influences in Game Six included the Nationals’ three home runs – Rendon (Championship WPA=10.8%), Soto (7.0%), Eaton (6.0%).23 Only one pitching sequence in the Nationals’ entire postseason is included in the top 12, Strasburg facing Altuve in the bottom of the fifth of Game Six (WPA=5.5%).



This essay was fact-checked by Laura Peebles and copy-edited by Len Levin.



The author accessed for box scores/play-by-play information (, and other data, as well as (

Photo credit: Trading Card Database.



1 Jesse Dougherty and Sam Fortier, “Nationals Win Game 6 with Dominant Stephen Strasburg Performance,”, October 30, 2019, The phrase became the title of Dougherty’s book, Buzz Saw, The Improbable Story of How the Washington Nationals Won the World Series.

2 Steven C. Weiner, “June 8, 2010: Stephen Strasburg strikes out 14 in MLB debut,” SABR Baseball Games Project. The Nationals strikeout record was subsequently surpassed by Max Scherzer (Steven C. Weiner, “May 11, 2016: Nationals’ Max Scherzer ties MLB record with 20 strikeouts,” SABR Baseball Games Project).

3 Dom Amore, “MLB’s 20 Greatest Debut Performances,” Baseball Digest, January/February 2024: 38.

4 Barry Svrluga, “Stephen Strasburg’s Legacy Is What He Did, Not What He Couldn’t Do,” Washington Post, June 6, 2023,

5 Steven C. Weiner, “October 1, 2019: Wild-card win launches Nationals’ run to World Series title,” SABR Baseball Games Project.

6 Laura H. Peebles, “October 9, 2019: Kendrick’s grand slam gets Nationals over the hump,” SABR Baseball Games Project. “Game Five. Two words guaranteed to bring angst to the heart of any Washington Nationals fan. Three times since 2012 the Nationals had made it to a National League Division Series Game Five – and all three times they had lost, in heartbreaking fashion. A fourth NLDS trip, in 2014, had resulted in three one-run losses and series elimination in four games.”

7 With the Nationals facing elimination in the 2017 NLDS, Strasburg gets out of a sick bed to beat the Cubs in Game Four with seven innings of shutout ball with 12 strikeouts. (Don Zminda, “October 11, 2017: Too sick to pitch? Strasburg has last laugh against Cubs in NLDS,” SABR Baseball Games Project).

8 Thomas Boswell, “The Nationals’ Bats Won Game 2, But It Was Stephen Strasburg’s Grit That Set the Stage,”, October 24, 2019. After yielding Alex Bregman’s game-tying homer in the bottom of the first, Strasburg allowed only four more hits through six innings of work. Verlander matched Strasburg until he yielded Kurt Suzuki’s tiebreaking homer in the seventh. Adam Eaton and Michael A. Taylor also homered for the Nationals.

9 Scott Allen, “The Six Wackiest Moments from a Truly Wacky Game 6,”, October 30, 2019,

10 Jesse Dougherty, Buzz Saw, The Improbable Story of How the Washington Nationals Won the World Series (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020), 269-278. Jonathan Tosches, Nationals’ head of advance scouting, was watching the game in the video room next to the visitors’ clubhouse. Tosches knew what pitch Strasburg was throwing by watching his glove, just as he had seen and analyzed in Phoenix in August. Tosches alerted pitching coach Paul Menhart. Dougherty tells us what Menhart and Strasburg said and did between innings to solve the problem.

11 Sam Fortier, “Strasburg Delivers a Gem with Nats’ Season on the Line.” Washington Post, November 4, 2019: F14.

12 Allen.

13 Neil Greenberg, “These 12 Plays Paved the Way,” Washington Post, November 4, 2019: F37.

14 Greenberg.

15 Allen. Rendon said he was “actually pretty happy about the delay … got to sit down for a little while.”

16 Allen.

17 Fortier. In the 1993 World Series, the Philadelphia Phillies were on the brink of elimination, down 3-1. In Game Five Schilling pitched a complete-game 2-0 shutout against the Toronto Blue Jays. In Game Six, Joe Carter’s walk-off three-run home run against Mitch Williams gave the World Series title to the Blue Jays.

18 David Barron, “Do or Die for Astros,” Houston Chronicle, October 30, 2019: A1.

19 Thomas Boswell, “If the Nationals Won’t Say It, Then I Will: Thank You, Stephen Strasburg,” Washington Post, September 24, 2023: D1. The postseason ERA list can be found on Statmuse ( Sandy Koufax (0.95), Christy Mathewson (1.06), Eddie Plank (1.32), Stephen Strasburg (1.46). Relief pitcher Mariano Rivera (0.70 in 141 innings) leads all pitchers in this category of accomplishment.

20 Allen.

21 Steven C. Weiner, “October 30, 2019: Clutch pitching, late hitting lead Washington Nationals to World Series title,” SABR Baseball Games Project. Note: This essay also includes discussion of the Championship Win Probability Added for plays in Game Seven.

22 Sky Andrecheck, “Championship WPA: What Portion of a Title Did a Player Contribute?”, April 4, 2009,

23 Greenberg.

Additional Stats

Washington Nationals 7
Houston Astros 2
Game 6, WS

Minute Maid Park
Houston, TX


Box Score + PBP:

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