Stephen Strasburg pitched seven shutout innings to put the Washington Nationals on the brink of their first World Series appearance after clobbering the St Louis Cardinals 8-1 on Monday.
Strasburg struck out 12, allowed just one run and veteran Howie Kendrick drove in three runs for the Nationals, who seized a commanding 3-0 lead in the National League Championship Series.
“It has been special to see what he is doing,” second baseman Kendrick said of Strasburg.
After the game, Strasburg was mobbed by his teammates in a dugout celebration.
“I am not much of a hugger but they kind of surrounded me, so I kind of had to take it,” Strasburg joked.
The Nationals can sweep the series in four straight with a win at home on Tuesday.
They are one of two current Major League Baseball teams – along with the Seattle Mariners – to have never played in the World Series.
The franchise was based in Montreal, Canada and known as the Expos for the first 36 years of its existence.
“It’s a little surreal and I think that’s why it’s important that we don’t look too far ahead,” said pitcher Sean Doolittle about being one victory away from their first World Series.
Strasburg now has a 1.10 ERA over seven career playoff appearances, four of which have come in these playoffs.
The offensively challenged Cardinals have scored just two runs in the series and the Nationals starting pitchers Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Strasburg have not given up an earned run in 21 2/3 innings of the NLCS. Sanchez and Scherzer flirted with no-hitters in the first two games.
Old guys rule
The Nationals have used a mix of young guns and experienced vets for their October success.
Kendrick tied a league championship series record with three doubles on Monday. Kendrick’s grand slam in game five of the NL Division Series was the deciding blow in a thrilling rally to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“In a time when they push youth, the old guys can still do it,” the 36-year-old Kendrick said. “We got a great mix. Youth is cool, we were all there at one time. But it is fun to see us having success too.”
He highlighted a four-run third inning with a two-run double and had another RBI with a double in the fifth inning.
Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman and Victor Robles each had two hits for the Nationals, who were 19-31 in late May but have now won 15 of their last 17 games thanks in part to their pitching staff.
“That’s what our team is built around [pitching]. You have those guys, those horses, that take the ball every fifth day,” said Zimmerman.
“They haven’t disappointed, obviously, in the postseason, but they’ve kind of been the backbone of this team all year.”
St Louis have had just 11 hits in the three games. The Cardinals were held without a hit into the eighth inning of game one and into the seventh inning of game two.
“We’ve got to get a lead at some point in this series. Hard to win a game if you can’t get a lead,” St Louis manager Mike Shildt said.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to create some offence early in the game and be able to hold it there.”