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Strasburg, Nats force 5th NLDS game

The Associated Press

Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg delivers in the first inning of Game 4 of the NLDS against the Cubs on Wednesday.

The Associated PressCHICAGO (AP) — Stephen Strasburg gave Washington everything he had, and it was more than enough on Wednesday. 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 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.

Washington manager Dusty Baker was noncommittal 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.

No kidding.

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.

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