The removal of Stephen Strasburg from the Washington Nationals never seemed more real than Sunday afternoon, in the moments after Strasburg's brilliance helped lift the team he will soon be separated from to a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. Manager Davey Johnson sighed and revealed the precise parameters, the unkind denouement to a decision made last year.

Strasburg will make two more starts. His final performance is on schedule for Sept. 12 at Citi Field against the New York Mets. The Nationals, owners of the best winning percentage in the major leagues and a 61 / 2-game lead in the National League East, have known for months their ace's season would end in the thick of a playoff race. With September here and the fall chill approaching, they now know when.