CHICAGO —Stephen Strasburg gave Washington everything he had, and it was more than enough.
So much for all those questions about heart and character.
Strasburg shook off an illness and pitched seven dominant innings, Michael A. Taylor hit a late grand slam and the Nationals beat the Chicago Cubs 5-0 on Wednesday to send their NL Division Series to a decisive Game 5.
“I just focused on one pitch at a time and going as long as I could,” Strasburg said.
Moments after Sean Doolittle closed out Strasburg’s first career playoff win, the focus shifted to the final game of the series in Washington on Thursday night. Kyle Hendricks starts for the World Series champion Cubs after throwing seven sharp innings in a 3-0 victory over Strasburg in Game 1.
Nats manager Dusty Baker was non-committal when asked about his starter, with Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark the most likely candidates.
“You know, whoever it is, I hope they pitch like Stras did today,” Baker said.
Strasburg got sick after his terrific performance in the playoff opener on Friday, and the Nationals had planned to go with Roark even after a persistent rain washed out Game 4 on Tuesday. That led to a flurry of comments and criticism about whether the ace had the right stuff to pitch in big moments.
But Strasburg felt better when he woke up Wednesday and told Baker he wanted the ball. That was all Baker needed to hear.
“I could see the focus and determination in his eyes, you know what I mean, when he came in the office and we talked to him,” the manager said. “You know, he’s a man of few words, but the words he said, you know, gave us every indication that he was ready.”
Standing tall as clouds of mist rolled through Wrigley Field, Strasburg struck out 12 , allowed three hits and walked two. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft has 22 Ks in 14 innings in the series, allowing only a pair of unearned runs in the sixth in the opener.
“I like to think that any game that I pitch is the most important game,” Strasburg said. “That’s just how I tried to go into Game 4, and now we get a chance for a Game 5.”