(Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Saturday afternoon, Stephen Strasburg stood in left field at Busch Stadium, winding up on flat ground and throwing to a crouching teammate about 80 feet away. Under different circumstances, if the Nationals had reached a different conclusion on how best to bring him back from Tommy John surgery, Strasburg might have been preparing for a Game 1 start Sunday.

But the Nationals of course decided to shut Strasburg down for the season, playoffs and all, and so Strasburg had come only to soak up the atmosphere and continue his throwing program with the team. He is not on the roster, but remains a part of their team.

“It’s great to have him here and he deserves to be a part of it just as much as we do,” said Gio Gonzalez, the man Game 1 pitching in Strasburg’s place. “We would love to have him in our rotation. We would love to have him play now, but I think that we are both going to experience this together and we are both going to have some great times.”

The Cardinals’ Game 1 starter knows a feeling similar to what Strasburg will go through this October. In spring training last year, Adam Wainwright tore his ulnar collateral ligament and underwent his own Tommy John surgery, ending his season before it even began. He watched from the dugout all year, still rehabbing as the Cardinals won the World Series.

“During the time, I felt like I was a huge impact to that team,” Wainwright said today. “I’m not so sure I did anything. But I tricked myself into believing I was, you know, pretty important last year. I felt like I was there for anybody who needed me, at whatever level that was. Nothing else to do, right?”

Having to watch the World Series run still hits Wainwright at times. Every now and then, an autograph seeker will thrust a ball at him adorned with the 2011 World Series logo.

“And then they take it back and say, ‘No, no, sign this one instead,’ ” Wainwright said. “That’s when it hits that I really didn’t get to do a whole lot.”

Unlike Wainwright, Strasburg helped the Nationals reach this point on the field, winning 15 games and posting a 3.16 ERA. When he celebrated the Nationals’ division title with a champagne shower, he felt like a part of the team. And if the Nationals keep advancing and keeping spraying booze, he’ll be there with them.