Everyone knew it was coming. Mike Rizzo had made it clear as far back as Sept. 2011, saying the Nationals would hold Stephen Strasburg to an innings limit the following year, shutting him down before season's end.

Nobody, though, could have known just how big a deal the Strasburg Shutdown would become, perhaps the biggest story in baseball through late-summer and early-September.

And when it finally occurred on Sept. 8, with manager Davey Johnson pulling the plug sooner than the club initially planned, reactions and emotions ran the full spectrum, starting with the player at the center of all the hubbub.

"I don't know if I'm ever going to accept it, to be honest with you," Strasburg said hours after learning of the decision. "It's something that I'm not happy about at all. That's not why I play the game. I play the game to obviously be a good teammate and to win. You don't grow up dreaming of playing in the big leagues to get shut down when the games start to matter."

The fact that these games most certainly mattered for the Nationals -- surprise leaders of the NL East and now in the thick of a pennant race -- made this story so significant. Nobody batted an eyelash 12 months earlier when the club made the exact same decision with Jordan Zimmermann, but that club needed a late-season surge just to finish 80-81.

This club led the division nearly the entire season and was positioned to make a deep run through October. Yet the men in charge of the organization never let the team's performance or place in the standings alter the predetermined plan for their young ace.

In fact, they pulled the plug five days earlier than initially planned after watching Strasburg labor through a ragged Sept. 7 start against the Marlins, capping his season at only 159 1/3 innings.

"After yesterday's start, we just figured that mentally and physically, Stephen looked like he was fatigued," Rizzo said. "We decided, what's the difference of 159 1/3 innings or 163 or 164 or 165 1/3 innings?"