Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Stephen Strasburg: Exceeding Exceptional Expectations

It's the top of the 7th inning. The crowd has been standing for a few minutes now. The cheers are booming; the crowd in awe. All eyes are on every single pitch. A spontaneous "Let's Go Nats" chant starts in the upper deck and makes its way around the entire park. The Blackberry's are put away; cameras are flashing. This playoff atmosphere wasn't for the playoffs at all. It was for the Washington Nationals who were 4 games below .500 entering Tuesday night, and the kid who has lived up to exceeded every unreasonably outrageous expectation: Stephen Strasburg.

Everyone knows about the outing by Strasburg by now, but it's worth repeating. Strasburg pitched 7 innings of 4 hit, 2 run baseball. Oh and he didn't walk a single batter. Oh, and he struck out 14 Pirates. You may be saying to yourself, wow, when's the last time a pitcher did that in his debut? The answer: 1971 when J.R. Richard struck out 15 for the Houston Astros. Yea, 29 years ago.

Strasburg did his 7 innings of work on 94 pitches. The last time someone got 14 strikeouts on less than 96 pitches? Never. In the history of Major League Baseball. Never ever. (Thanks to @AdamKilgoreWP for the stat.)

Strasburg's first strikeout of the night was against Lastings Milledge on 3 pitches. The die hard Nats fans ate it up. The crowd erupted. After Strasburg gave up a 2 run home run to Delwyn Young in the 4th inning, he retired the next 10 batters in a row. 8 of those 10 batters were struck out. Delwyn Young's home run came on a Strasburg change up after he threw two in succession.

In the 7th inning, Young was Strasburg's 13th strikeout victim of the game. On 3 fastballs. 98 mph. 98 mph. 99 mph. He learned from that mistake. After the game, Pittsburgh's Ronny CedeƱo said, "His change-up is like 89-90-91 miles an hour, man. That's hard to hit." That it is, Ronny. Especially after seeing a 99 mph fastball.

And then, there was the offensive comeback. The Nationals heart of the order was just that. Zimmerman, Dunn, and Willingham all had home runs, with Dunn and Willingham's back-to-back in the 6th to shoot the Nats ahead of the Bucks 4-2.

Washington never looked back, scoring another run in the bottom of the 8th. The Nats Clipp'd n Saved for Stephen Strasburg's first career win and Capps' 19th save on the season. A comeback that Capps desperately needed after blowing 3 of his last 4 save chances.

As a lifelong baseball fan, I have never been to a game that was so exciting with such an electric crowd. It is a game that not only Nationals fans, but baseball fans, will remember forever. Strasburg summed it up perfectly himself on MLB Network last night after the game. After he got 3 shaving cream pies to the face, he was asked if the cream stung. His response: "A little bit, but it's the greatest feeling in the world." For us, too, Stephen.

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