Spring 2021 Magazine

Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg's dominance earns World Series MVP

When the Washington Nationals selected pitcher Stephen Strasburg with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft, surely one of their hopes was that he’d help them win a World Series. When the team’s general manager, Mike Rizzo, held the young star pitcher out of the 2012 postseason (a year after having Tommy John surgery), surely the GM hoped the move would pay off in the long run.

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On Wednesday, the Nationals won the 2019 World Series, the first in franchise history, beating the Houston Astros 6-2 in Game 7. The World Series MVP: Stephen Strasburg.

The 31-year-old won two games in the World Series, Games 2 and 6, the latter of which would have sent the Nationals home had they not prevailed. He allowed just four runs over 14.1 innings in those starts.

And he became the first pitcher to go 5-0 in a single postseason, collecting a 1.98 ERA over five starts and one relief appearance. The dominant performance comes on the heels of his best regular season: 18-6, 3.32 ERA, 251 strikeouts, NL-leading 209 innings.

In so doing, Strasburg is now the first No. 1 overall pick to win the World Series MVP award — and he did it for the organization that picked him. Meanwhile, that organization is the first to win four road games in a series — a series in which the road team won all seven games for the first time ever.

Furthermore, the Nationals started the season 19-31, but earned a wild-card berth. They trailed 3-1 in the eighth inning of the wild-card game, but won. They trailed 3-1 in the eighth inning of the last game of the NLDS, but won. They trailed 2-0 in the seventh inning of Game 7 of the World Series, but won the first championship for a franchise that started as the Montreal Expos in 1969.

Strasburg couldn’t do anything but watch Wednesday night, and the only thing to really see early on was Astros pitcher Zack Greinke dominating. But with one out in the seventh inning, the Nationals’ best hitter, Anthony Rendon, put his squad on the board with a solo home run to left field. That gave him a league-best 14 RBIs this postseason.

The Nationals’ next-best hitter is the man behind Rendon in the lineup, 21-year-old Juan Soto, who walked after Rendon’s homer. Up came Howie Kendrick, who clubbed a two-run home run to give Washington a lead it would never relinquish. In the eighth inning, Soto added insurance with his second hit of the night, an RBI single. The Nats scored twice more in the ninth, all but sealing the series.

Both Rendon and Soto would have been worthy of the MVP award, but in the end it went to Strasburg, who accepted the award with his wife, Rachel, and their two daughters by his side.

“It’s just surreal,” Strasburg said on the FOX broadcast. “And to be able to do it with this group of guys is just something special. We didn’t quit and I love every one of those guys. It took all of us to do it.”

Strasburg’s future in Washington

Strasburg signed a seven-year contract extension with the Nationals in 2016, but there’s an opt-out clause after the 2019 or 2020 seasons. Seeing as how comfortable he is in Washington, and considering they’re now World Series champions, he’s unlikely to leave town anytime soon.

That makes one organization in particular very happy. In 2018, Strasburg became the Nats’ official ambassador for Strike Out Slavery, which was founded by L.A. Angels star Albert Pujols and his wife, Deidre. Its mission is to educate baseball fans about modern-day slavery by partnering with MLB players and teams, as well as International Justice Mission and other international nongovernmental organizations.

IJM is an anti-human trafficking organization dedicated to both raising awareness of trafficking and actively freeing those trapped in it. IJM sets its foundation on Biblical principles, saying, “We’re inspired by God’s call to love all people and seek justice.”

“When my wife and I got involved with the International Justice Mission in 2015, I learned that human trafficking is an underreported and misunderstood social justice issue that affects my community,” Strasburg said during the press conference announcing his role as player ambassador, “and I’m proud to join my friends Albert and Deidre and Nationals fans in learning how to address modern-day slavery and recognizing courageous survivor ambassadors for telling their stories.”

Strasburg is a part of IJM’s Team Freedom, a group of professional athletes and their families dedicated to fighting slavery around the globe.

“We are proud to support the work of IJM and are praying for the day that every person is living a life in freedom,” Strasburg says.

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