I have never seen anything like it. I attended the Washington Nationals game versus the Pittsburgh Pirates game last night, June 8, 2010, in Washington. It was a much anticipated event: pitcher Stephen Strasburg made his major league debut. Drafted in 2009 out of San Diego State University, Strasburg signed with the Nationals for a reported $15.1 million and got some seasoning in the minors before coming up to the Big Leagues last night. Not that he needed the seasoning in the minors; he was dominant in both Double and Triple A just has he had been in high school and college.
Strasburg was also dominant last night. He pitched seven innings, 94 pitches that routinely topped 95 mph, struck out a team record 14 Pirates, walked 0, and won 5-2. His one mistake was a two run homer given up to Delwyn Young in the fourth inning, giving the Pirates a 2-1 lead. He finished with seven consecutive strikeouts. Allowing only four hits and two runs in seven innings, Strasburg ended his outing with a 2.57 ERA and his first major league win.
For once, the reality lived up to the hype. John Smoltz, who knows quite a lot about pitching, said of Strasburg, “he super-exceeded the unexceedable.” The ballpark was packed, which hasn’t happened often in Washington, and the air was electric. I have not witnessed such excitement since the first games of the Nationals’ inaugural season in Washington.
We cannot expect a 14 strikeout performance all the time, but if Strasburg continues to deliver quality starts the Nationals might be able to play meaningful games in September. That would be a change for the better, no doubt about it; it was torture going to the games last year with the Nationals’ hapless play delivering yet another 100 loss season.
As I see it, there are three things that Stephen Strasburg’s performance in his MLB debut brought to the Nationals. First, it showed that this kid has some serious stuff that translates from the minors to the Big Leagues very well. If he continues to give his team quality starts every five days, and his performance last night suggests that he will, having a stopper on the mound immediately makes the Nationals a team that is 10-12 wins better than last season.
Second, such a continuing performance cannot help but inspire his teammates and raise the play, not to mention the expectations, all around. Finally, he will bring fans to the games, something that has been sadly lacking in Washington for a long time. The energy that would create also cannot help but inspire the Nationals to improve play on the field.
Since this is Washington, I must ask if this fellow is the second coming of Walter Johnson. Who knows, he certainly looks great but it was only one start and true assessment can only be made much later in his career. But I will say this; it is pretty rare to see such a great single game performance. I’ve never witnessed one in person like this. We have to look long and hard to find it from a rookie phenom. Certainly, I’ve never seen it before. I hope it continues.
What does everyone else think?