If Stephen Strasburg was named Michael Jordan, this would have gone down in history as a sequel to THE FLU GAME!
Then over time it would have been exaggerated into THE FOOD POISONING GAME! Then maybe even THE PROSTATE CANCER GAME!
But this wasn't Jordan in a playoff game, it was Strasburg, who to many Wednesday afternoon had to merely elevate his image back up to ground zero.
Strasburg did so, and more, with a performance that prompted exclamation points -- !!! -- of its own.
In a game that could have eliminated the Nationals from the NLDS, Strasburg made the Chicago Cubs' bats look sick, going 7 scoreless innings while yielding 3 hits, walking two and striking out 12.
He left leading 1-0 in what became a 5-0 Washington victory.
As if to send a message to his doubters on a chilly, drizzly, windy day, Strasburg took the mound in short sleeves.
"It was a challenge," Strasburg said. "As soon as I got (to Chicago) I was hit pretty hard by a virus."
The outcome brought the series back to where it belongs: two evenly matched teams playing a decisive Game 5 Thursday night at Washington.
"(Strasburg) had everything working," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "He looked very, very determined."
The Nationals indicated strongly Tuesday that the flu would prevent Strasburg from making the start.
The news set off alarms about Strasburg, even though Nats general manager Mike Rizzo calls him "an ultra-competitor.
Strasburg is one of baseball's best pitchers, but suspicions have been that he is soft.
So critics began howling when reports were that Strasburg told Nationals manager Dusty Baker that he couldn't go.
"Most pitchers would go out there in the postseason if their arms were hanging by a thread," some said. Others said, "The baby declined to pitch just because his routine was interrupted." Still others said, "Well, the guy is no Michael Jordan."
Overall, the tone was that an athlete has to play in a game to make that game THE FLU GAME!
The world went to sleep after Tuesday's rainout questioning Strasburg's heart.
One former player/current commentator went as far as to say if Strasburg was his teammate he couldn't look him in the eye.
Others expressed a similar sentiment.
Then, shortly after waking up Wednesday morning, they heard that Strasburg was feeling better and going to pitch after all.
It was one thing for Strasburg to take the mound. It was another thing for him to pitch so well that the naysayers had to take back the negativity.
OK, maybe not all of it. The notion was floated that the critics might have shamed Strasburg into getting off his sick bed.
Rizzo and Baker insisted that nobody in the Nationals' organization questioned Strasburg's condition.
Strasburg was asked whether, given the drama surrounding this start, he felt he had to prove anything.
"Not to you guys, no," he said. "No, you guys create the drama. But I know I have faith in every other guy in this clubhouse."
Baker said that he wasn't certain yet who he would start Game 5 but, "You know, whoever it is, I hope they pitch just like Stras did today."
The last thing the Cubs need is another Nats pitcher performing with exclamation points LIKE MICHAEL JORDAN DID WITH THE FLU!!!