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Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg on the journey from ‘09 No. 1 overall pick to the World Series MVP

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From the 2009 Draft to the 2012 Shutdown to 2019 World Series Champion and MVP. That’s quite a journey, Stephen Strasburg.

2019 World Series Game 7 - Washington Nationals v. Houston Astros Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Stephen Strasburg went (2-0) in two starts in the World Series, with a 2.51 ERA (four runs in 14 13 innings pitched), three walks, 14 Ks, and a .222/.259/.407 line against, to finish up the 2019 Postseason at (5-0), with a 1.98 ERA, four walks, 47 Ks, and a stingy .221/.239/.368 line against in six games, five starts, and 36 13 IP in October.

In doing so, the 31-year-old, ‘09 No. 1 overall pick became the the first pitcher in MLB history to finish a Postseason with a (5-0) record, and once the Washington Nationals wrapped up a World Series win with their 6-2 victory over the Houston Astros on Wednesday night, the 10-year veteran was named the World Series MVP.

It was a long road from top pick of the 2009 Draft, through Tommy John surgery, to the 2012 Shutdown, to three-time All-Star, Cy Young candidate, and now World Series MVP.

“Through all the adversity I think I’ve learned a lot about myself,” Strasburg told reporters in Houston’s Minute Maid Park after the Nationals celebrated their win in the 115th Fall Classic.

“When you have the ups and downs,” he said, “I think you can learn just as much from the downs as you can the ups. And I think everything happens for a reason.

“I think I’ve really just become a stronger pitcher through all the adversity that I’ve had to go through.”

The subject of the Nationals’ decision to shut Strasburg down at the end of the 2012 season in his first full year back following Tommy John is unavoidable in the aftermath of his rise to World Series MVP. His teammate, Ryan Zimmerman, talked about that decision, made in the best interest of the player as the team headed to the Postseason for the first time back then, and what it meant for the right-hander in the long-run that he was shut down when the Nats decided he’d reached his limit (pitch, innings, or otherwise).

“Yeah, I mean, we talked about this, gosh, I think someone asked me on a conference call about this after the Dodgers series,” Zimmerman told reporters.

“And I said in 2012, I really think the organization had the players’ best interests in mind. It wasn’t a popular decision. I don’t think -- I think Stephen wanted to pitch. I think obviously all of us on the team wanted him to pitch. So sometimes the hardest decisions aren’t the most popular decisions.

“But there’s been a couple of guys that have tried to push through that kind of innings limit or threshold, and a lot of them haven’t done so well with it. And everyone said, ‘You never know when you’re going to get another chance to make the playoffs.’ You never know this. You never know a lot of things. It’s easy to say that then.

“I can’t promise you, I can probably tell you, that he wouldn’t be the pitcher he is now if he would have -- say he pitches and we go on to win the World Series that year, you’re talking however many more innings.

“Yeah, I mean, I think it would definitely have affected him. Who knows, we could have won the World Series that year and he could be fine, too.

“But I think the most important thing is the organization really did have the best interests in mind for the player. And I think sometimes that gets lost in the equation.

“So I respect the heck out of them for doing that for Stephen.”

“It’s so long ago,” Strasburg said when the topic came up in his MVP interview, “and I think you try not to look in the past and you try not to look in the future. I think it’s much more of a challenge to not kind of see how it’s going to all play out, especially over this last month.”

“But, again,” he continued, “... it just comes back to trying to be in the moment and giving everything you have.”

What has he learned about himself through the whole journey?

“I think I’ve really learned that if I focus on the things that I can control — and I think I’ve learned that I’m a perfectionist, I’ve learned that I’m a control freak. And in this game it’s very hard to be perfect. It’s very hard to control things.

“But the one thing that you can control is your approach and how you handle your business off the field. And when you go out there and compete it’s just about execution.

“And you put in all the work in the offseason, in between starts, to go out there and try and be the best version of yourself. And that’s something you can control every time.”

“He’s pretty good at not worrying about stuff,” Zimmerman said after Strasburg went 8 13 innings, giving up five hits, two walks, and two earned runs in the Nats’ season-extending win over the Astros in Game 6.

“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 a pitcher that finished the regular season (18-6) with a 3.32 ERA, a 3.25 FIP, 56 walks, 251 Ks, and a .210/.271/.349 line against in 33 starts and 209 IP.

Strasburg acknowledged that as much as he’s grown as a pitcher, he’s grown as a person as well, and while he remains a relatively quiet, reserved person, he’s embraced his teammates and his role on the roster as an elder statesman at this point.

“That was kind of put on me at an early age,” he said of his demeanor early in his career.

“My favorite player growing up was Tony Gwynn. And obviously his numbers were amazing.

“But growing up in San Diego and being -- playing for him, being around him, quickly realized that the impact that he had on the game was so much more than just the numbers he put up. And he took great care of me. He kind of showed me the ropes.

“At the end of the day it’s a team game. I think as a kid you’re drawn to this game because [you] kind of like being around a bunch of other kids and you want to go out there and play together and hopefully win. But it’s the camaraderie, it’s the brotherhood that is the most satisfying.”

In addition to his “brothers”, Strasburg had his family with him at the game last night, and on the field with him when he was named World Series MVP.

What will he tell his two daughters, when they’re old enough to ask, about his journey from top pick in the Draft to World Series MVP?

“Yeah, you know, it’s tough to say. They’re pretty young still. I think they’re just excited to kind of be around the other kids in the clubhouse and play and hang out together. Some day down the road if they ever ask me what it was like, I’ll tell them it wasn’t easy.

“There might be a lot of situations in their life where it’s not going to go according to plan and it’s not the easiest way, but we’re going to go out there and fight through it and keep battling.”

Coincidentally, that sounds like the story of the 2019 Nationals, who started out 19-31 in the first 50 games, went 74-38 the rest of the way to earn themselves a spot in the NL Wild Card game, which they came back to win, before coming back in the NLDS, sweeping the NLCS, and fighting back from the brink of elimination to win the World Series. How did they stay in the fight?

“I don’t know,” Strasburg said. “It’s almost like we’ve done it so many times that we have to get punched in the face to kind of wake up. I think it’s just the MO. We don’t quit. We never quit throughout the season despite kind of everybody saying that we were done.”