Washington manager Dusty Baker made the only move he could.
When Stephen Strasburg said he was healthy enough to pitch Wednesday’s elimination game against the Cubs in the National League Division Series at Wrigley Field, the decision was obvious.
Tanner Roark, take a seat. Stephen Strasburg, take the ball. All Strasburg did was pitch seven shutout innings in the Nationals’ 5-0 victory, sending the series back to the nation’s capital for the decisive Game 5 Thursday night.
In the prelude to Wednesday’s game, baseball critics everywhere ripped Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, Baker and most of all Strasburg over the starting pitcher fiasco.
Roark, a Wilmington graduate, entered the series as the Nationals’ No. 4 starter and would have gotten the start Tuesday, but for the rainout. In the news conference after the rainout was announced, Baker said Roark still would start because Strasburg was not feeling well. Something about Chicago mold.
One of baseball’s best pitchers, especially in the second half of this season, Strasburg was roundly criticized for not wanting the ball in an elimination game. On Wednesday morning, however, he told the team he was feeling better and wanted to start.
He indeed did start and dominated the Cubs, much like he did in Game 1.
In the hullabaloo over Strasburg’s illness and the series headed back to Washington, Roark may be the forgotten man. I feel sorry for him, the way the scenario played out. He grew up a Cubs fan and always cherishes any opportunity he gets to pitch at Wrigley. Imagine the thrill had he gotten the ball Wednesday.
Roark, a right-hander who turned 31 last week, made his Wrigley Field debut in 2013 and about 300 well-wishers from Wilmington showed up to see him work. He has pitched there a few times since, but certainly not in a game as meaningful as Wednesday’s.
As for pitching in the postseason, Roark made two appearances in the 2014 NLDS against the Giants and started a game in the NLDS last year against the Dodgers, allowing two runs on seven hits in 41/3 innings.
He pitched in the World Baseball Classic in the spring, and some feel that might have contributed to his slow start. He finished the season 13-11 with a relatively high 4.67 ERA, but he was much better after the All-Star break.
Between the All-Star Game and Sept. 21, a span of just over two months, he made 12 starts and pitched 75 innings while allowing 27 earned runs, a solid 3.24 ERA. He did not allow more than three earned runs in any start in that span. He was primed for a postseason start.
Baker said in Tuesday’s news conference that when Roark gets the ball, you know you will get maximum effort. He said Roark is the type you want on your side if a fight breaks out in the alley.
Strasburg belonged on the mound Wednesday, but it is a shame Roark may not start at all in this series. Late Wednesday, Baker indicated he would choose from among Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez and Roark to go Thursday, although there was another report the choice would come down to Gonzalez, who is on normal rest, and Scherzer.
Maybe Roark will get a chance to pitch an inning or two in relief, anyway. That would be nice; this could be it for the Nationals. I am often wrong predicting baseball, but I see Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs winning this series and moving on.
• Dick Goss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.