So the Strasburg era has begun. Just one day shy of a year after he was drafted, Stephen Strasburg took the mound for the Nationals last night against the Pirates.
Nationals Park was packed (although I was just a tad disappointed that the announced crowd was 40,315 in a stadium whose capacity is 41,888). Unlike recent opening days, this time it was packed with Nationals fans. That was different.
The weather was perfect. It was 75 degrees at game time, with just a light breeze from left field to right. Our seats were perfect. This just happened to be the first of a handful of games we earlier bought in the Stars & Stripes Club level, section 217, looking right down third base.
And the game? My. Oh. My. A few days ago, I had joked that the kid would probably go seven scoreless innings and then the bullpen would give up the game. Then I would sardonically snarl, “Welcome to Nats Town,” as I’ve done so many times when a game collapsed in the late innings.
That’s not what happened. Instead, Strasburg mowed through the Pittsburgh batting order with dispatch. Everyone now knows that he struck out 14 batters–each and every member of the Pirates’ starting lineup–thus setting a new Nationals record for strikeouts in a game. In his very first major-league game. How unbelievable is that? As Mark Zuckerman wrote, it was a historically overwhelming display, possibly the greatest pitching debut in the history of the game.
And in this game he gave up a two-run homer to Delwyn Young in the fourth inning. That’s good, because it showed Strasburg, and all of us fans, that he is mortal. In the bad-Nats scenario, that would have been it; the one-run lead Ryan Zimmerman’s first-inning solo shot had given him would have been squandered. But instead, the Nats’ bats woke up. The slumping Adam Dunn parked a two-run homer in the right field mezzanine (the second deck of seats) to give the kid the lead back. And Strasburg would fan eight of the next ten batters he would face to end a truly overwhelming pitching performance.
And our recently disappointing bullpen, guided by Pudge Rodriguez (fresh off the DL), slammed the door to ensure the kid his win. Good job, Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps. In the spirit of the evening, Clippard struck out two batters and Capps one.
Yes, we saved our ticket stubs. Yes, I did a neat job of keeping score, so I can prove I was there one day. Just like with the 1969 Woodstock festival, millions of people will claim to have been present, but only 40,315 will be telling the truth.