By Kevin Powell
WRIGLEY FIELD – It took less than 24 hours for the Stephen Strasburg narrative to flip. As fans were wearing mold masks in Wrigley, the righty was putting together an unforgettable dominant performance — a two-hit, 12-strikeout gem that propelled the Nationals to a 5-0 win over the Cubs on a cold and rainy day on the North Side.
“He’s pitching absolutely at the top of his game right now,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “That is really good stuff; give him credit.”
After Dusty Baker declared Tanner Roark the Game 4 starter, and gave a vague “under the weather” statement on Strasburg, everyone was confused. Then, a USA Today story came out reporting that Strasburg declined the opportunity to start. Twitter and the sports world went wild. It was a mess.
Turns out, Strasburg was a whole lot more than “under the weather.”
Before the game Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo revealed Strasburg had been on a strict “antibiotic regimen, anti-inflammatories, and fluid IV’s.”
Strasburg said he started feeling sick once they arrived in Chicago.
“Yeah, it was a challenge. It seemed like once we got here, you know, I got hit pretty hard with the virus. You know, it just seemed to suck the life out of me every single day. They go me on antibiotics and just wasn’t really working or anything.
“Luckily they switched it (on Tuesday) with the hopes that it would kind of kick in. Woke up this morning, I wouldn’t say I felt great, but I felt like I was better than what I was the day before. And in games like this, you have to go out there and give it everything you have, whatever it is.”
He gave it everything. And it was his version of the “flu game.” The rain postponement really did help the Nationals.
So, did Strasburg feel like he had something to prove after all the criticism he got?
“No to you guys, no. No, you guys (the media) create the drama.”
Apparently it was the media’s fault the National’s poorly communicated the starter situation.
Regardless, it was a career-altering game for Strasburg. Imagine if he actually did turn down the opportunity to start, and the Nats lost? People would never forget. Instead, he guts out a performance and extends his team’s season.
Despite Strasburg’s outing, and despite the Nationals forcing a Game 5, all of the pressure remains on Washington. They’ve never made it past the first round. Bryce Harper will likely sign with another team after next season. They’re window to win isn’t exactly wide open. They need this series. And so does Dusty Baker. There’s a good chance he gets fired if he can’t lead his club to the NLCS.
The Nats are riding high, but the resilient Cubs feel good about their chances.
“I just want us to go play,” Maddon said. “Just do our normal patterns. We prepare like this for every series, not just this series.”
Kevin Powell covers Chicago baseball for WGN Radio and anchors sports on The Roe Conn Show with Anna Davlantes, M-F/3-7p. Follow on twitter @kpowell720