Stephen Strasburg is so-so, but Nationals' rally to beat Mets is sensational

Stephen Strasburg had the least-impressive start of his young career, but Iván Rodríguez made fans forget about the phenom's struggles.
By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 4, 2010

Some two hours after Stephen Strasburg departed the shakiest and most resilient start of his career, after temporary mayhem had unfolded at Nationals Park, Iván Rodríguez walked into the batter's box, one swing away from ending a game playing on televisions across the nation. They tuned in for Strasburg. They saw one of the most incredible finishes of this baseball season.

In the bottom of the ninth inning Saturday afternoon, two batters after Adam Dunn came within inches of a game-winning grand slam, Rodríguez roped a one-out, bases-loaded, walk-off single that completed a three-run ninth inning and a 6-5 Washington Nationals victory over the New York Mets. Before what remained of a sellout crowd, the Nationals had notched their first win this year after trailing entering the ninth. The most turbulent inning of Strasburg's career was barely a memory by the time Ryan Zimmerman jogged home, hands held victoriously in the air, with the winning run.

Where to start? With Strasburg's five strikeouts, three walks, four hits and 96 pitches in five innings? With two base runners converging at third base and nearly nullifying a game-winning rally in an even more bizarre way than the night before? Or with Dunn, one of the game's best sluggers, at the plate facing closer Francisco Rodríguez with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth?

And the end? That depended on one's perspective.

Strasburg: "An awesome win."

Francisco Rodrguez: "The worst freaking performance I've ever had in my entire life."

Nationals reliever Drew Storen: "A reminder why baseball is so great."

The drama crested when Dunn stepped in against Rodríguez. Dunn didn't know what pitch to look for, and Rodríguez threw him a 2-1 fastball. Dunn hit it off the end of the bat but still drilled it to deep center.

It bounced off the top of the wall -- which replays would be necessary to confirm -- and back into the field. Cristian Guzmán, running from third, retreated back to his base as Willie Harris bolted from second. They nearly collided at the bag, but Harris slowed so he did not pass Guzmán, which would been an out -- "heads-up play by Willie," third base coach Pat Listach said.

"I slowed down pretty good," Harris said. "But I barely touched third base. Barely."

They both sprinted home, Harris sliding in with the tying run. After Josh Willingham was intentionally walked, up came Rodríguez. With the Mets playing five men in the infield, he roped the second pitch he saw into right field, and the celebration was on. The Nationals mobbed him halfway between first and second, at least a split of the four-game series with the Mets clinched.

"It was a tough pitch to hit," Rodríguez said. "I just threw my hands at the ball."

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