When the Washington Nationals needed him, pitcher Stephen Strasburg delivered.
After a dominant postseason ending with the first World Series title in franchise history, Strasburg was named World Series MVP. He’s the first No. 1 overall pick to be named a World Series MVP in MLB history.
Strasburg, in his 10th season, led Washington to Fall Classic wins in Game 2 and Game 6, both on the road.
“It’s almost like we’ve done it so many times that we have to get punched in the face to kind of wake up,” Strasburg said. “I think it’s just the MO. We don’t quit. We never quit throughout the season despite kind of everybody saying that we were done.”
In the 2019 postseason, the 31-year-old Strasburg became the first pitcher in Major League history to finish a postseason with a 5-0 record, striking out 47 to go with a 1.98 ERA. Hall of Famer Randy Johnson went 5-1 for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 and Francisco Rodriguez improved to 5-0 in 2002 with the Anaheim Angels before losing in Game 4 of the World Series.
“I think I’ve really learned that if I focus on the things that I can control, and I think I’ve learned that I’m a perfectionist, I’ve learned that I’m a control freak,” Strasburg said. “And in this game it’s very hard to be perfect. It’s very hard to control things.
“But the one thing that you can control is your approach and how you handle your business off the field. And when you go out there and compete it’s just about execution. And you put in all the work in the offseason, in between starts, to go out there and try and be the best version of yourself. And that’s something you can control every time.”
Strasburg was born in San Diego, and his favorite player growing up was Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres. Strasburg played at San Diego State before the Nationals drafted him as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 MLB draft. After a strong start in his rookie year in 2010, he suffered a torn ulnar-collateral ligament in his right elbow, needing Tommy John surgery.
In 2012, his first full season back following the surgery, the Nationals — wanting to limit his innings — famously chose to shut down Strasburg before the playoffs after his final start on September 7. It was a move that was criticized at the time, as a healthy Strasburg had gone 15-6 on the season.
The Nationals lost in the National League Division Series in the playoffs that year. Then it happened again in 2014, 2016, and 2017.
“I buried it a week after 2012,” Washington general manager Mike Rizzo said after Wednesday’s Nationals win regarding the Strasburg shutdown, according to MLB.com.
“But people seem to keep bringing it up a lot. It was something we did before Stras, we did it since Stras, it’s just the way we do our Tommy John protocol. It helps us in the long run to care more about our players than other teams do. That’s the way we do it here. We care about our players. Sometimes, you have to take a step sideways to go forward. If it’s in the benefit of a player’s health and wherewithal, we do it.”
Said Strasburg: “It’s so long ago, and I think you try not to look in the past and you try not to look in the future. I think it’s much more of a challenge to not kind of see how it’s going to all play out, especially over this last month.”
It all appears to have worked for the best. A decade after he was drafted, Strasburg helped lead his team to a title.
“Through all the adversity I think I’ve learned a lot about myself,” Strasburg said. “When you have the ups and downs, I think you can learn just as much from the downs as you can the ups. And I think everything happens for a reason. I think I’ve really just become a stronger pitcher through all the adversity that I’ve had to go through.”
It remains to be seen if Strasburg will remain with the Nationals. While he has four years and $100 million remaining on his contract, Strasburg has an opt-out clause, which means he could become a free agent this offseason if he chooses.
“That’s business for tomorrow,” Rizzo said, according to MLB.com. “We’ll worry about it tomorrow. He’s one of the best pitchers in the league, and I’m sure he’ll get paid like it.”