By HAL McCOY
For most major league teams Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg is ‘Mr. Unbeatable.’
For the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday afternoon Strasburg was ‘Mr. Unhittble.’
For 6 2/3 innings Strasburg was working diligently on a no-hitter and it forced Nationals manager Dusty Baker into a difficult decision.
Strasburg came off the disabled list to make the Sunday start and with two outs in the seventh inning he threw his 109th pitch. Baker, wanting to make certain he didn’t risk injuring his $175 million right hander, wisely removed him, no-hitter or not.
AND THE NO-HITTER LASTED until the eighth inning when the Reds finally broke through against former teammate Matt Belisle for three hits and a run.
Straburg, though, pushed his record this season to 11-and-0 and he is 14-and-0 over his last eight starts dating back to last season. He hadn’t been that good, though, against the Reds. His career earned run average against the Reds was 5.55, but he take good care of that Sunday.
All the three hits and a run off Belisle did was save the Reds the ignominy of getting no-hit for the second tie this season because the Nationals were crushing the baseball en route to a 12-1 victory.
They crushed starter John Lamb and they crushed relief pitcher Keyvius Sampson and they crushed relief pitcher Jumbo Diaz for a total of six home runs.
AND THE MAN WHO DID the most damage was the same man who did damage the entire four-game series, three games won by the Nationals.
Shortstop Danny Espinosa hit a grand slam home run for the second time this series and hit two home runs in a game for the second time this series.
For the series Espinosa, Washingotn’s No. 8 hitter, drove in 15 runs. And he hit five home runs in the four-game series.
The massacre against Lamb began in the fourth inning when the Reds trailed by only 1-0, a home run in the second inning by catcher Wilson Ramos.
Lamb, though, walked the first three batters in the fourth inning and Espinosa whacked a grand slam to make it 5-0.
LAMB REMAINED IN THE game for the fifth and gave up a leadoff home run to Bryce Harper. When he gave up hits to two of the next three hitters Lamb was replaced by Keyvius Sampson. He immediately gave up an RBI single to Espinsosa for an 8-0 Nationals lead.
Sampson gave up another run in the sixth and then Anthony Rendon and Espinosa hit back-to-back home run to open the seventh and it was 11-0.
Jumbo Diaz started the eighth and gave up a leadoff home run to Stephen Drew, the 18th time this season a relief pitcher for the Reds has given up a home run to the first batter he faced.
LAMB, 1-AND-5 WITH A 5.43 earned run average, pitched 4 1/3 innings and gave up eight runs, eight hits, four walks and three home runs — a line as ugly as the face of a possum eating a dill pickle.
The Reds had a first-inning opportunity against Strasburg as he shook off the rust. He walked Zack Cozart to open the game and walked Joey Votto with one out. But Jay Bruce popped out and Eugenio Suarez flied out to center and that was it.
While Strasburg definitely had no-hit stuff (he nearly always does), his no-hitter was saved three times by outstanding defensive plays, two by third baseman Anthony Rendon.
Billy Hamilton led the fifth with a sizzling smash toward left field. Rendon leaped to make a backhanded snag. Zack Cozart led the sixth with a smash that Rendon snagged. On the next play, shortstop Espinosa displayed his defensive acumen as well as his offensive punch by going deep into the hole to stop Jose Peraza’s ball bound for left field. Espinosa leaped in the air and threw a one-bouncer to first baseman Ryan Zimmerman for the out.
Reds catcher Ramon Cabrera broke up the no-hitter with a leadoff single to left in the eighth. With one out Cozart singled to center and Peraza singled to center to score Cincinnati’s only run of the game.
The Reds, losers of 10 of their last 12, open a three-game series, all day games, Monday in Chicago against the staggering Cubs. After sweeping three games from the Reds in Cincinnati the Cubs were swept this weekend by the New York Mets, losing Sunday by 14-3.