Last night was easily the most highly anticipated night in D.C. sports in recent memory. Only the Redskins’ Super Bowl games could even hope to surpass the kind of hype that was directed toward 21-year-old Washington Nationals rookie Stephen Strasburg leading up to his first start in Major League Baseball. Not only was the entire city talking about a team that endured 100 losses in each of the last two seasons, but for the first time in a long while national attention was directed toward the District for a positive reason: to witness the beginning of an era.
Strasburg took the mound to vociferous cheers from the standing-room-only crowd that pack themselves into Nationals Park like sardines. They waited, and as they held their collective breath, Strasburg threw the first major league pitch of what should be a long and prosperous career: and it was a ball. Cheers for the wunderkind quickly morphed into boos for the umpire. Strasburg threw a ball inside, and a ball outside before McCutchen hit into a lineout.
Getting that one out was all Strasburg needed to get comfortable. Once the first hitter was out of the way, he settled in. He got Walker to groundout before striking out ex-Nat Lastings Milledge for his first major league K. That would be the first 14 K’s he would earn on the night in 94 pitches throughout 7 innings.
The game would not be without struggle, as Strasburg allowed 4 hits. The low point of the night would be in the fourth inning when Young hit a 2-run homer that landed in the first row of the seats in center field. After that home run, Strasburg really locked in. He only threw 7 balls the rest of his outing, while striking out 8 batters. He struck out the final 7 batters he faced.
The team had originally said that Strasburg would be limited to 90 pitches and 6 innings, but after retiring the slid in straight strikeouts, and at only 80 pitches, Riggleman decided to send him back out for the seventh inning. The team, which was behind 2-1 at the time, took this as an opportunity to make the night even more memorable for the kid and the crowd: they wanted to give him his first win. In the bottom of the sixth, the Nationals scored three runs to be ahead 4-2 when Strasburg went out to finish his outing at 7 innings.
If this was a glimpse into the future, then the future is looking very bright for baseball’s worst teams the last two years. Strasburg not only matched the hype, he found a way to do the impossible: exceed it. This kid is very, very good. And should his arm hold out, he will be for a very, very long time.