Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Nationals vs. Blue Jays: Stephen Strasburg, Tyler Moore power Washington to sixth straight win

The delirious charm of this Washington Nationals season reached a new high Wednesday afternoon. It is not enough for them to continue their rampage through the two toughest divisions in baseball. They did it as Stephen Strasburg chucked aspirin tablets past the Toronto Blue Jays, as a Southern-fried, country-strong rookie came off the bench and blasted two home runs.

On the sun-drenched diamond inside Rogers Centre, the Nationals completed the first perfect, six-game road trip in franchise history with a 6-2 thumping of the Blue Jays that sealed their second straight sweep. Tyler Moore launched the first two home runs of his major league career and drove in five runs. Strasburg struck out eight over six innings, becoming the first major leaguer this year to reach 100 strikeouts.
The Nationals have played their last 23 games against the National League and American League East divisions, the two most rugged in baseball. They have attacked the stretch not as something to survive, but as a means to take control the NL East. The Nationals have gone 15-8 in those games and, as of late Wednesday afternoon, they lead the pack by 4 ½ games and the last-place Philadelphia Phillies by 10.
With Adam LaRoche nursing a sore right foot he had fouled a ball off of Tuesday night, the Nationals turned to Moore, the 25-year-old Mississippian who had slugged 62 homers over the past two seasons in the minor leagues. A natural first baseman, Moore had played only outfield in his short major league tenure. “Do you still have your glove?” Manager Davey Johnson asked before the game.
In his first stint in the major leagues, Moore appeared in only 12 games over a month and went 3 for 19 with seven strikeouts. He cherished the experience, but he did not mind when the Nationals optioned him back to Syracuse on May 28 – he would actually get to play again.
One week later, third-string catcher Carlos Maldonado strained his back and the Nationals needed Moore again. He played in every game last weekend in Boston and knocked three hits, including his first career double.
Wednesday, Moore gave himself a memory. He crushed a two-RBI double to left-center field in the second inning off starter Kyle Drabek, which gave Strasburg a 2-0 lead. After the Blue Jays tied the game in the third inning, Moore struck again. He clobbered a two-run homer to left field, the first of his career.

Moore came to bat for the third time in sixth inning. He took three straight balls from left-handed reliever Aaron Laffey, and then one called strike and two foul balls worked the count full. Laffey tried a changeup, and Moore annihilated it into the seats in center field. Moore had gone 28 at-bats without a homer, and then he hit two in a row.
By himself, Moore had given Strasburg ample support. Four days after throwing 119 pitches, Strasburg showed no effects from the highest pitch count of his career, aside from Johnson pulling him after only 89 pitches.
Strasburg’s fastball sat consistently at 94 to 96 miles per hour in the opening innings, and by the sixth he was hitting 97. He produced awkward swings and embarrassing moments with his offspeed pitches, like when Yunel Escobar nearly twirled out of the batter’s box to avoid a curveball that curled over the plate for a strike. Or how he struck out Colby Rasmus three times on 12 pitches, five of which he swung at and missed.
Strasburg hit trouble in the third, when a double by Rajai Davis and a solo homer by Jose Bautista scored two runs. After Bautista’s drive to left, Strasburg retired 10 of the final 11 batters he faced. He extended his league lead in strikeouts and actually raised his ERA, from 2.41 to 2.45.
After the sixth inning, pitching coach Steve McCatty approached Strasburg and told him he was finished. Strasburg glared straight ahead, fuming, as McCatty explained. Johnson has frequently pulled Strasburg an inning earlier than usual, in order to conserve Strasburg under his team-instituted innings limit.
The Nationals’ bullpen cleaned up the final three innings. Strasburg could sit in the dugout, part of the hottest team in baseball, perhaps the best story in the major leagues.

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