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Stephen Strasburg makes his final home start of the season tonight.
But when Stephen Strasburg emerges from the first base dugout at 7:05 p.m. tonight, he'll do so with the knowledge he won't be allowed to make that stroll anymore in 2012.
Having been informed by team management last week he will be shut down following next Wednesday's start in New York, Strasburg finally has a clear view of the finish line on what will be remembered both as an equally remarkable and frustrating season for the young right-hander.
Remarkable because he returned from Tommy John surgery to post 15 wins (at least), a sub-3.00 ERA and more strikeouts than any pitcher in baseball. Frustrating because -- even though he's healthy and feels like he can continue to pitch -- the Nationals are shutting the 24-year-old down at the tail end of a pennant race for purely precautionary reasons.
So it could be an emotional night at Nationals Park when Strasburg faces the Marlins, the home crowd getting one final opportunity to watch their young ace in person this season.
Just don't expect the man on the mound to show any more emotion than he usually does.
"He's all-in," manager Davey Johnson said. "Every time he goes out, he's committed to be the best he can be. He probably puts that standard higher than I like it. So I don't see him ramping down to the last one of two, going at it any harder or any softer."
Indeed, Strasburg's motivation tonight likely won't have anything to do with his impending shutdown but with trying to move the Nationals one step closer to their first NL East title, not to mention making amends for his last start against the Marlins.
Only 10 days ago in Miami, Strasburg suffered perhaps the worst beating of his professional career, getting tagged for seven runs (five earned) and nine hits in five innings. The Nationals lost that game 9-0, their fifth consecutive loss, and the following day Johnson closed the doors of his clubhouse to hold a team meeting.
Since then, the Nationals are 8-1, beating their opponents by a collective score of 70-27.
Strasburg called that start "a big learning experience for me." Will he take what he learned and apply it to tonight's game?
The bigger challenge might be finding a way to rediscover success against a Marlins team lineup that has already faced him four times this season and eight times in his career. No other team has gone up against him as many times.
Whatever the result, when Strasburg retreats to the dugout at the end of his outing, surely he'll receive a standing ovation from an appreciative crowd that won't get a chance to say thanks again this year.
After a summer spent worrying about and debating the shutdown of a healthy pitcher, the end has finally arrived.