ATLANTA -- For a moment, Stephen Strasburg ditched his usual stoic and serious demeanor. His three-run homer had just capped one of the Nationals’ biggest innings of the season -- an eight-run third inning to catapult the Nats to a 13-4 rout over the Braves on Thursday night at SunTrust Park. And although it had not dawned on him until he reached the top step of the dugout, it was time to dance.
As has become customary for Nationals hitters following a home run this season, the team lined up in the dugout ready to receive Strasburg for a dance party.
“And to be honest, it was pretty nerve-wracking,” Strasburg said with a laugh. “I didn’t really have anything. I’m not a big dancer to begin with.”
When Strasburg complied, dancing along with Gerardo Parra, his teammates erupted with joy.
“Did he say when the last time he danced was?” first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “Stras isn’t much of a dancer. His wedding might have been the last time he danced.”
“I had to watch that one,” manager Dave Martinez said. “It was definitely a moment.”
The Nationals had plenty of reasons to celebrate. Their victory pulled them closer to first-place Atlanta in the National League East, trimming the deficit between the two teams to 5 1/2 games. And it was a historic night from Strasburg, at the plate, was a major reason why.
Strasburg ignited that third-inning rally with a single up the middle, scored from first on an Adam Eaton triple and then launched a 420-foot three-run home run off reliever Touki Toussaint, after the Nats chased starter Kyle Wright. According to the Elias Sports Sports Bureau, Strasburg became just the fifth pitcher in the last 50 years to record two hits in an inning including a homer, and first since Edwin Jackson on April 11, 2010. No Nationals/Expos pitcher had ever had two hits in a single inning before Strasburg.
“That’s just how crazy this game is,” Strasburg said. “Obviously my focus is going out there and trying to keep the other team at bay, but sometimes you just run into the ball. I’ve always been told that a swinging bat’s a dangerous one. So I was just able to connect on one.”
Yet, Strasburg was not done. With one out in the fifth inning, he collected a two-run single, also off Toussaint, to finish 3-for-3 with five RBIs. Strasburg joins Micah Owings (Aug. 18, 2007, D-backs at Braves) as the only pitchers since the designated hitter debuted in 1973 to enjoy a game with a home run and at least three hits and five RBIs.
“You don’t expect much out of that spot,” Zimmerman said. “So, if you can turn the lineup over, and obviously drive in some runs and do what Stras did, it’s sort of a bonus. You don’t expect to get it out of that spot.”
As for his day job on the mound, Strasburg gave up three runs on eight hits and struck out seven in 5 1/3 innings, and Martinez said he noticed him running out of gas toward the end of the outing, likely from running the bases so frequently. But he beat the Braves for the third time this season in three starts -- recording his Major League-leading 12th victory -- helping to set the tone in a crucial series for the Nationals.
This was the first of seven meetings between the two teams over the next 14 days, a direct chance for the Nats to climb back into the division race and make up ground over the team in front of them.
If they continue to have nights like Thursday night, they’ll have plenty of reasons to keep dancing.