Strasburg debut one for the ages
Posted: Wednesday, June 9, 2010 1:16 pm
By: By JOSEPH WHITE, AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Poor Stephen Strasburg. Too much pressure to put on a 21-year-old kid. No way he could live up to the hype, right?
Strasburg didn’t fall short of the hype. If anything, the hype fell short of him. Fourteen strikeouts. Not a single walk. An electrifying performance, including an unforgettable final inning in which he struck out the side while all of Nationals Park roared with every pitch.
Last year’s No. 1 overall draft pick put on a dazzling display of power pitching in his major league debut Tuesday night, clocking 100 mph with his fastball and baffling hitters with nasty curves in the Washington Nationals’ 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“He pitched,” Nationals slugger Adam Dunn said, “probably the best game I’ve ever seen pitched.”
Certainly it gets strong consideration as the best debut outing of all time. Only J.R. Richard and Karl Spooner struck out more in records dating to 1920 — 15 for Richard with Houston in 1971, 15 for Spooner with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954 — but both had three walks and pitched complete games. If Strasburg hadn’t been pulled after seven innings because of a tightly regulated pitch count, he surely would have passed them both.
“I’ve been catching a lot of guys,” said catcher Ivan Rodriguez, patting Strasburg on the shoulder, “but this kid is unbelievable.”
The right-hander allowed four hits and two earned runs, both scoring on Delwyn Young’s homer to the first row of seats in right field in the fourth inning. Rodriguez took the blame for calling that pitch, a 90 mph changeup.
Strasburg was pulled for a pinch hitter after seven innings — 65 of his 94 pitches were strikes — and took a quick curtain call. After the game, his teammates pelted him with three shaving cream pies and made him wear the goofy silver “Elvis wig,” a clubhouse ritual for the player of the game.
“I thought I was going to be a lot more nervous than I was,” Strasburg said.
Maybe that’s because he didn’t leave much time for contemplation. Strasburg always pitches in a hurry — the game took only 2 hours, 19 minutes — and plate umpire Tom Hallion even suggested to him that he slow down his warmups because the breaks between innings are longer in the majors.
“The only thing I really remember is the first pitch — ball inside — everything else is just such a blur,” Strasburg said. “At one point I lost track of how many innings I threw. I was like, ‘You know what? I’m just going to go out there and have fun.’ It’s amazing.
“It’s kind of like when you get married and everything. You kind of go into it wanting to remember everything — and once it’s done, you can’t remember a single thing.”
Strasburg should know. He was married in January. His family, gathered in the corner of the news conference room, joined in the laughter.
When he left the podium, he gave hugs to all of them.
Strasburg relied on his curveball early because his fastball was a bit wild.
By the end, he couldn’t miss with his heater.
He fanned the last seven batters he faced, and he struck out all nine Pirates starters at least once.
“Our game plan was to get something to hit, be aggressive with his fastball in the zone,” said Lastings Milledge, Strasburg’s first strikeout victim, “and he didn’t give us that.”
Strasburg also tied Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers for most strikeouts in a game in the majors this season.
Scherzer had 14 on May 30 against Oakland.
The day was nicknamed “Strasmus” — and it was the biggest baseball event in the nation’s capital since the sport returned in 2005 after a 33-year absence.
To go real deep into history, one could argue that Strasburg had the most anticipated Washington rookie pitching debut since Walter Johnson at the long-forgotten American League Park on Aug. 2, 1907.
Strasburg left with a 4-2 lead, the Nationals supporting him with home runs by Ryan Zimmerman, Dunn and Josh Willingham. All three homers came off Pirates starter Jeff Karstens (1-2).
Tyler Clippard pitched the eighth and Matt Capps the ninth for his 19th save.
Cameras flashed as Strasburg (1-0) threw his first pitch at 7:06 p.m. — 97 mph to leadoff hitter Andrew McCutchen. Fans booed when Hallion called it a ball. Rodriguez then handed the ball to the umpire and it was removed from play for posterity.
Strasburg was promoted after dominating the minors, going 7-2 with a 1.30 ERA, 65 strikeouts and only 13 walks in 11 starts in Double-A and Triple-A. His debut came nearly a year to the day after he was drafted No. 1 overall, and one day after the Nationals — who have lost 100 games in consecutive seasons — chose 17-year-old hitting sensation Bryce Harper with the No. 1 overall selection in this year’s draft.
Washington sold out Nationals Park for only the second time all season. Fans cheered when Strasburg emerged from the dugout at 6:24 p.m. with pitching coach Steve McCatty, then came a standing ovation when he walked back to the dugout after warming up in the bullpen. McCatty pretended the cheers were for him and doffed his cap.
“That kind of put a smile on my face,” Strasburg said. “He made me laugh, and kept me loose.”
Not that the kid needed much help.