“When that happened in the past, I would just try and jam it down their throat and throw it as hard as I can,” he said. “I kinda learned that I didn’t really get much accomplished. So I think it just helped me take a step back and really focus on being nice and easy and hitting my spots.”
In the fourth, Strasburg squared around to bunt with two runners on and one out. Kyle Kendrick’s pitch hit Strasburg on his right forearm. Strasburg was headed to first when first base umpire James Hoye signaled that Strasburg had offered at the pitch and had to continue batting. Strasburg said the pitch only grazed him, and he wound up striking out.
No one in the bullpen ever stirred throughout the game, not even after the minor scares. Clippard said he noticed bullpen coach Jim Lett wander toward the bullpen phone. “We told him to sit back down,” Clippard said.
“He was very aggressive,” Ramos added. “That was the key for him today. Early in the game he was feeling something with his leg, so I was thinking he would be out of the game soon. But he is a horse. He fight today in all nine innings.”
The Nationals’ offense supported Strasburg in a way it had done so rarely this season. It staked him to a 1-0 lead in the first inning on an RBI single from Jayson Werth.
Another hot-hitting National was at the heart of the fourth-inning scoring. With Ian Desmond at second following a single and stolen base and Adam LaRoche at first after a walk, Ramos stroked a single to left to score Desmond. After two were out, Denard Span beat out a chopper over the mound. It was enough to plate another run and give Strasburg a 3-0 lead.
The Nationals loaded the bases again in the fifth. Werth and Desmond singled and LaRoche walked. Ramos then hit a groundball to second baseman Chase Utley, but catcher Kratz couldn’t handle Utley’s low throw, and Werth slid into home plate safely. With the awareness to see Kratz couldn’t find the ball, Desmond raced home and also slid safely under the tag. Werth walked off the field slowly, having bruised his knee, and was replaced in the seventh inning.
Sunday’s toppling of the Phillies was Washington’s first sweep since July 7, when it took three games from the San Diego Padres, and only its fourth sweep this season. It was also the first time the Nationals have swept the Phillies in Washington. And they did by riding the right arm of their ace, who notched his first win since that Padres series.
When Strasburg took the mound in the ninth, those of the announced 32,355 that remained in the unusual 5 p.m. game stood on their feet and applauded. He entered the frame with 90 pitches. He got Carlos Ruiz to fly out and Jimmy Rollins to ground out with a combined six pitches. All that remained was Kevin Frandsen.
“He was pounding the zone,” Johnson said. “When he starts sniffing that goal line, he’s amped up. . . . I haven’t seen him throw that hard all year consistently.”
Down 2-0 in the count, Strasburg fired a 93-mph fastball that Frandsen lined at Zimmerman, who made a slick back-handed diving stab. Strasburg’s game was complete. He tipped his cap toward Zimmerman. He high-fived Ramos and hugged. And then, near the dugout steps, got the Gatorade shower from his teammates.
“When a guy has a performance like that, you gotta get him,” Clippard said. “He kinda saw [us] in the dugout and he was like, No.’ And we were like, ‘Yes.’ So that was fun.”
“I was okay with the Gatorade,” Strasburg added. “I was just glad it wasn’t shaving cream.”