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Strasburg dominates, Nats take 3-0 lead

The Nationals’ Kurt Suzuki and Tanner Rainey celebrate after Washington’s 8-1 win over St. Louis in Game 3 of the NLCS on Monday. The Nationals took a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. AP photos

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — More than 100 pitches in, Stephen Strasburg was adamant he wasn’t quite ready to leave the latest superb start by a Nationals pitcher against the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series — a win that put Washington on the verge of the city’s first World Series in 86 years.

It was the seventh inning, and manager Dave Martinez noticed Strasburg had flexed his right leg and reached for that hamstring. So the skipper and a trainer went to the mound to check on their guy.

“I was trying to explain to him, ‘Hey, you just grabbed your hamstring, so there’s a little concern,’ “ Martinez recalled. “He said, ‘No, I cramped up. It’s fine. I always cramp up.’ He said, ‘I’m staying in the game. I want to finish this inning.’ I said, ‘You sure you’re all right?’ He said, ‘I’m in the game!’ “

The right-hander did, indeed, stay in. Even struck out the next two batters to raise his total to 12 Ks, each finished with an off-speed pitch. Strasburg took his turn silencing the Cardinals’ struggling bats, Nationals postseason star Howie Kendrick doubled three times and drove in three more runs, and Washington took a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven NLCS by beating St. Louis 8-1 on Monday.

Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg throws during the first inning of Game 3 of the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday.

“It’s a little surreal,” reliever Sean Doolittle said about being one win from the World Series, “and I think that’s why it’s important that we don’t look too far ahead.”

After Nationals starters Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer flirted with no-hitters in the first two games against the Cardinals, Strasburg wasn’t quite that untouchable: He allowed a double in the second inning, six later singles and one unearned run.

Still, the Cardinals, quite simply, can’t score in this NLCS: They have a grand total of two runs and 11 hits through three games. Washington’s three starters have a combined ERA — no calculator necessary for this one — of 0.00.

“We expected better,” said Hilo’s Kolten Wong, who went 0-for-4 on Monday and is 0-for-10 in the series for St. Louis.

Now it’s Patrick Corbin’s chance to see if he can match his rotation-mates. The $140 million lefty will start for the Nationals in Game 4 today, when they can close out a sweep at home. Rookie right-hander Dakota Hudson will be on the mound for the Cardinals.

“We’ve got to get a lead at some point in this series. Hard to win a game if you can’t get a lead,” St. Louis manager Mike Shildt said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to create some offense early in the game and be able to hold it there.”

The Nationals roughed up Jack Flaherty for four runs, all in the third inning; he hadn’t allowed that many in a game since July 2, a span of 18 appearances.

Seven of Washington’s eight runs came with two outs, and there were contributions from up and down the lineup: Victor Robles homered in his return from a hamstring injury, and Anthony Rendon heard “MVP!” chants after a slick defensive play and an RBI double.

“We haven’t been able to play our brand of baseball in full,” Shildt said. “We haven’t been able to get in rhythm or sync, but we still have more baseball to play.”

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MLB Postseason

LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

Monday’s Result

Washington 8, St. Louis 1, Washington leads series 3-0

Today’s Games (HST)

Houston (Cole 20-5) at N.Y. Yankees (Severino 1-1), 10:08 a.m. (FS1)

St. Louis (Hudson 16-7) at Washington (Corbin 14-7), 2:05 p.m. (TBS)

Wednesday’s Games (HST)

St. Louis at Washington, if necessary, 10:08 a.m. (TBS)

Houston at N.Y. Yankees, 2:08 p.m. (FS1)