With two outs, he walked Pena on a 3-2 pitch. Two singles followed, which pushed Pena to home plate. Strasburg needed 16 additional pitches to escape the third and the Rays sliced the Nationals’ lead in half, to 3-2.
The inning endangered how long Strasburg could pitch, but after the third he took full control. The Rays managed only two hits the rest of the game as Strasburg relied on his fastball, throwing it 96 and 97 mph with precise location, and sprinkling in his devastating change-up.
“Once I got over the troubles of just trying commit to the pitch and just trusting it, it changed the ballgame,” Strasburg said. “I started to see what they were trying to do against me. I felt better as I went along.”
Strasburg ran into one tough spot. With two outs in the sixth, Elliot Johnson hit a line drive into shallow right-center field. Bryce Harper had played Johnson in left-center, and Johnson alertly took advantage and took second base — he Harpered Harper.
Molina followed with a shallow fly into left field. Lombardozzi took two steps back at first, then realized his mistake and charged. “I was hauling my butt in there,” he said.
As Johnson rounded third, Lombardozzi dived, sliding on his stomach with his glove reaching out. He scooped the ball just before it hit the turf. Strasburg pumped his fist on the mound, and teammates waited by the dugout to slap gloves with Lombardozzi.
“I kind of turned that play into a Web gem,” Lombardozzi said.
At 99 pitches, Strasburg went out for the seventh and finished his start with the same authority he lorded over the Rays all night. He struck out pinch hitter Will Rhymes and Jennings to end a 1-2-3 inning.
“It’s not a conscious effort,” Strasburg said. “They kind of say when you see the finish line, you have a little more adrenaline going.”
The Nationals faced Chris Archer, a 23-year-old fresh from Class AAA Durham making his major league debut. Archer will remember most everything from the night, but he will try to forget the way it started.
Lombardozzi smoked a double into the right-center field gap. Harper followed with a scorched single to right-center, scoring Lombardozzi to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead. Ryan Zimmerman followed with a groundball to shortstop. Harper stutter-stepped to let the ball pass him, then bolted for third base.
Johnson threw to third for what could have been a rally-killing out, but he had to rush and the ball deflected off Sean Rodriguez’s glove. Third base coach Bo Porter barrel-rolled out of the way of the ball, which rolled into the Rays’ dugout. Harper trotted home, Zimmerman moved to second and the Nationals led 2-0.
“That was actually a terrible read,” Harper said. “But I got lucky. I can’t complain.”