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Stephen Strasburg “shakes” off early runs; leads Washington Nationals to 7-2 win in Game 6 with Houston Astros

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Stephen Strasburg was tipping his pitches in the first inning, apparently, but he changed things up and got into the ninth in the Nationals’ 7-2 win over the Astros.

World Series - Washington Nationals v Houston Astros - Game Six Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Stephen Strasburg threw 114 pitches in six innings in Game 2 of the World Series, striking out seven of 26 Houston Astros he faced while giving up seven hits, one walk, and two earned runs in what ended up a 12-3 win for the Washington Nationals in Minute Maid Park.

Going up against the Astros last night, so soon after that first outing, he said, was not much different from the way the regular season schedule works these days, and, he added, if he executed his pitches he’d be fine.

“Really, it comes down to execution of pitches. Their approaches might change a little bit, but the important thing is to go out there and pound away and trust your stuff.”

Astros’ skipper A.J. Hinch talked before the game about how Houston’s hitters would approach the ‘09 No. 1 overall pick.

“You know, we have to stay inside the strike zone against Strasburg,” Hinch told reporters in his pregame press conference before Game 6.

“We did a really good job of that in Game 2, and made him work almost every inning to get through his innings.

“You can get these 15, 18, 20, 25-pitch innings and then all of a sudden he can’t vacate the strike zone, he’s got to stay inside the strike. That’s easier said than done.”

“We have to make him work to get his outs,” Hinch added, which his club did in Game 2.

“You can’t go up there swinging at everything because he will feast on that. But you also have to be ready to hit in case that strike is a little bit higher in the strike zone. He’s tough. He’s really good.

“But I think a disciplined approach is the best approach against him, with the idea that if he’s demonstrating that he’s going to go to the big part of the plate be ready to hit.”

With the season on the line for the Nationals, skipper Davey Martinez said in his pregame press conference that he was excited to have Strasburg on the mound in the win-or-go-home game.

“He’s been one of the best all year long,” Martinez told reporters.

“It feels good knowing that he’s going out there to start Game 6 for us and he’s going to give us whatever he can and keep us in the ballgame.”

Strasburg took the mound with a 1-0 lead, courtesy of an RBI single by Anthony Rendon in the top of the first, but a leadoff double George Springer, on a first-pitch fastball down the pipe, led to an early run for Astros, 1-1, and they took a lead when Strasburg sent a second fastball down the middle to Alex Bregman, who absolutely crushed the 2-0 pitch and hit a no-doubter to left to give the home team a 2-1 advantage after one.

Strasburg retired nine straight Astros after the Bregman home run, before issuing back-to-back, two-out walks in the bottom of the fourth, but he stranded those runners to keep it at 2-1 after four in Game 6.

It was 3-2 in the Nationals’ favor when Strasburg took the mound in the bottom of the fifth, and gave up back-to-back, one-out hits, a single by Josh Reddick and a double by George Springer that put runners on second and third for José Altuve, who K’d chasing an 0-2 curve into the dirt, and Michael Brantley, who hit a one-hopper to Trea Turner at second base in the shift for out No. 3 of a 22-pitch frame which left him at 77 total after five.

Bregman singled to start the bottom of the sixth, but he was erased on a force at second in the next at bat, and Strasburg got through a nine-pitch inning which left at 86 overall, and he set the side down in order in an 11-pith seventh, before tossing a five-pitch, 1-2-3 eighth which got him up to 102, then he came back out to retire the first batter in the ninth before handing it over to Sean Doolittle, who got the final two outs.

Stephen Strasburg’s Line: 8.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 Ks, 1 HR, 104 P, 65 S, 10/3 GO/FO.

Talking with Tom Verducci on the field after the game, Strasburg said he’d been tipping his pitches in the first, but Nationals’ Pitching Coach Paul Menhart saw what was going on and came up with a fix that apparently solved things.

“I started shaking my glove so they didn’t know what I was throwing,” Strasburg explained, “... so they obviously look for certain things, and I just thank Menhart for giving me the tip.”

Strasburg’s manager talked after the win about that discussion that led to the changes that the pitcher made. What the conversation?

“‘We need to fix -- you’re tipping your pitches, we need to fix it.’ And after that he was lights out. He was really good. Big pitchers in big moments do what Strasburg did today.”

“I told him after the game, I said, ‘That was tremendous. You picked us all up, and we’re going to Game 7 because of your performance.’”

Strasburg was clear that he didn’t know what the Astros picked up, so Menhart’s fix helped him do what he did.

“I definitely didn’t, because it’s something that has burned me in the past, and they burned me there in the first,” he said, “... but again, it’s just a part of the game and you’ve got to do your best to stay consistent in your delivery on each pitch.”

Strasburg led the way, the offense came up big, and the Nationals extended the series, which will wrap up tonight in Game 7 in Houston.

Astros’ skipper A.J. Hinch was impressed with what he saw.

“I saw an incredible pitcher. He was really good. And as I said before the game, he has an uncanny ability to slow the game down when he’s under any duress. We didn’t put a lot of stress on him. But the times that we did in the 5th and in the lead-off single in the 6th, he kind of backs it down a little bit, throws the secondary pitches for strikes, he locates pitches. He didn’t make a lot of mistakes.

“I thought he -- credit to him bouncing back from the first inning. It was almost like just exactly how the last game went where they score, we score, and all of a sudden he settled in and was very dominant. He’s got a slow heartbeat out there.”

Strasburg’s teammates were in awe of what he did on the mound.

“Unbelievable,” Max Scherzer, who’ll start Game 7, said, “just to be able to go out there and pitch like that. They came out aggressive against him, but the way he just executed pitches, it was unbelievable. It’s tough for me to watch. I’m still kind of in game-mode, because I had to get locked in, to get ready to pitch, and it’s tough for me to see all the pitches from the pen, but the job he did for us, the effort, that’s just world class.”

“For him to go out there and throw eight innings, eight-plus innings,” Trea Turner said, “and dominate the way he did, give us a chance at tomorrow is big, and we’re excited to do it all again tomorrow.”

Ryan Zimmerman said that Strasburg’s presence, and calm demeanor on the mound are something he grew into, and what he’s become is a better version of what was already a great pitcher.

“He’s pretty good at not worrying about stuff,” Zimmerman said. “I think he’s about as I guess ‘stoic’ would be a good word, crossword puzzle word, but yeah, he doesn’t let too much get to him, I think that’s what has sort of taken him over the top. He’s always been talented, he’s always had unbelievable stuff, and you know, four or five, however many years ago it was when he kind of stopped letting the little things bother him, he’s become who he is now.”

Who he is now, is the first pitcher in MLB history to go (5-0) in a single postseason.