The Nationals scratched out a run in the 13th inning to defeat the Cubs, 5-4, and move to one game under .500. Chad Tracy’s 45-foot dribbler with one out scored Denard Span with the decisive run. Because Rafael Soriano completed the ninth, the Nationals turned to Drew Storen in the 13th, and he earned the save with an inning-ending double play.
“It’s not pretty, but sometimes you don’t need to be,” Tracy said. “You just need something to happen.”
Four innings prior, Strasburg took the mound in the bottom of the ninth having thrown just 96 pitches. Strasburg was coming off the shortest start of his career, having faced only seven batters in his previous outing, a wild appearance in which he was ejected in the second inning in Atlanta for hitting a batter and then throwing behind another.
Strasburg had an early lead and mowed through the Cubs’ lineup. He allowed only one run on four hits over the first eight innings. “He pitched a great game,” Manager Davey Johnson said.
For eight innings, Johnson’s point was beyond debate. Then Strasburg unraveled. With one out, he gave up a single to catcher Dioner Navarro. The next batter, right fielder Nate Schierholtz, rolled over a change-up toward second baseman Steve Lombardozzi. He and shortstop Anthony Rendon tried to turn two, but Schierholtz beat the relay. He then took second on defensive indifference.
Strasburg and catcher Wilson Ramos teamed up to nab two base runners earlier in the game, something the pitcher has made a concerted effort on recently. But in this spot, the two were more focused on the batter. Center fielder Junior Lake then smacked a ball deep into the hole at short. Rendon, a third-baseman-turned-second-baseman filling in for shortstop Ian Desmond (stiff back), gloved the ball. His throw skipped past first baseman Tyler Moore and bounced off the tarp, allowing Schierholtz to score.
“You feel terrible,” Rendon said. “Obviously I had a little slip-up there, but that’s no excuse. I still should’ve made that play. If that happened, that’s not how our season would’ve went or my season would’ve went, so it’s like it had to happen almost.”
Strasburg, visibly upset, still had to deal with Murphy. Entering the at-bat, three of Murphy’s seven home runs had come in this four-game series. Strasburg fed him two 96-mph fastballs, the first a ball, the second a swing and miss. Then came Strasburg’s curveball, an out pitch for him Thursday that had helped him strike out eight batters. This one stayed over the heart of the plate and didn’t have the same bite. Murphy waited on it. Strasburg could only watch as it carried over the wall at Wrigley Field.