Strasburg's debut a masterpiece

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WASHINGTON -- Boiling excitement all along the Potomac could scarcely be contained even before rush hour had its legs. Something pretty urgent is going on when you're bumping into celebrities three hours before a June baseball game.

Ken Burns, Scott Boras, celebrated saxophonist Jaared, Sandra Bullock.

All right, not Sandra Bullock, but who would have been surprised?

Actually, Jaared was behind the plate at beautiful No Naming Rights Stadium in the 4 o'clock hour practicing the national anthem, which is an occasional gig here in his hometown. Jaared's toured in South Africa, Austria, Germany, Poland, Dubai and elsewhere, but this was the date he was hoping to line up.

"I thought, 'Wow, if I could be there the night Stephen Strasburg makes his debut, that would be something," he said in the umpires tunnel. "That rehearsal was kind of rushed. There's so much going on. I've really been looking forward to it."

He and all of baseball.

Few will remember that Jaared blasted a soaring and elegant Star-Spangled Banner to warm up for Strasburg on June 8, 2010, a performance that ran to technical perfection in octaves an alto sax doesn't really have, but none among its witnesses will ever forget Strasburg's Washington inaugural, a seven-inning, 14-strikeout monument to pitching virtuosity.

The most heralded rookie pitcher since perhaps David Clyde, whose straight-from-high-school debut performance 37 years ago this month with the Texas Rangers would stand as the highlight of an injury ravaged career, Strasburg dazzled an SRO crowd with 100-mph heat and the assured speed-changing guile of a 10-year major league veteran.

He struck out every Pirate in the lineup.

He struck out seven in a row as the Nationals closed the curtain after 94 pitches, costing him a chance to tie the big league record of 20, even as his manager later admitted he could have thrown 194.

He struck 'em out hard and soft, up and down, in and out. On top of all that, he struck 'em out with a delivery so fluid and calculating that it wouldn't have been thought possible for someone a month short of his 22nd birthday.

"The one thing I don't think you'll see from him is what you'd call nerves," said Nationals president Stan Kasten. "He's never shown that. He just wants to fit in and be one of the guys."

Good luck with that.

From the moment Strasburg walked out of the bullpen with pitching coach Steve McCatty at 6:59 p.m., the only emotion perceptible on his young face came just as the crowd fully realized his presence along the right-field foul line. There was an instantaneous standing ovation, and Strasburg seemed to gulp a little, but McCatty broke the tension by doffing his cap.

"It's kind of like when you get married," Strasburg said. "You go into it wanting to remember everything and when it's done, you don't remember a single thing."

Wait, all this and insightful quotes?

Give him the Cy Young right now.

"The last inning, he was just extremely overpowering," said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. "It was just one of those really memorable things, one of those things you'll always remember. I'm just happy for him, for his family, for Tony Gwynn and his staff at San Diego State [Strasburg's alma mater], for Spin Williams [the Nationals' pitching coordinator and former Pirates pitching coach), for our Double-A and Triple-A staffs -- geez I'm talkin' like it's the Academy Awards up here!"

Strasburg delivered ball three only three times all night. His first punchout came against Lastings Milledge, who saw a 99-mph first pitch, took an 82-mph change, then waved at another one, this 83 mph.

The first pick in last June's draft, the 6-4, 225-pound Californian struck out six of the first nine hitters, and after Pirates catcher Jason Jaramillo chopped a 1-2 pitch to first base with one out in the seventh, no Pirate put the ball in play until Strasburg exited seven outs later.

That Delwyn Young stroked a 1-0 changeup to the seats in right for a 2-1 Pirates lead in the fourth inning stands this morning as the only evidence that Strasburg made any mistakes at all.

"That was a change I shouldn't have called," said Nationals catcher Pudge Rodriguez, who has caught his share of exquisite pitching over 20 big league seasons. "The kid is unbelievable. With most young pitchers, they're getting behind in the count. He didn't do that hardly at all. He attacked the strike zone and he threw his breaking ball for strikes. I should have called for a fastball on the pitch Young hit."

The only blemish on a summer masterpiece, it only meant Strasburg would settle for a pitching line the read 7-4-2-2-0-14. His final pitch flew at Andy LaRoche at 99 mph, whiffing the man to whom he surrendered his first major league hit five innings previous. Even that seemed momentous, much as Strasburg tried to fight it.

"Things went a lot better as the game went on," Strasburg said. "In the seventh, that definitely brought back memories of the 23-strikeout game at San Diego State, the no-hitter, so the adrenalin was really flowing for me then. I was just trying to throw it where they weren't swinging. I was just trying to soak it all in and enjoy it. It's still just a game."

Well, not that one.

That was like Jaared said.

That was something.

Gene Collier: .


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