Several other Nationals placed their stamp on the victory, too. Ian Desmond drilled a go-ahead, bases-loaded double, Danny Espinosa smoked two doubles and Xavier Nady made a once-in-a-season, homer-robbing catch. But the night belonged to Strasburg and Harper, the Nationals’ two former first overall picks, twin forces of nature.
Before the game, Harper chatted with David Ortiz, the slugger who blew him a kiss at last year’s All-Star Game. On the base paths, Dustin Pedroia told him, “Great job.” A fan sitting on top of the Green Monster yelled Harper’s name until he waved back. Harper absorbed everything, and then he grabbed the game by the throat.
“I’m 19 years old, so I still look at those guys as the guys I grew up watching,” Harper said. “It was pretty unbelievable to see that. Having an atmosphere like that, playing for the first time at Fenway, it was just an unbelievable experience.”
The place threw all it could at Strasburg. He began the sixth inning with 10 strikeouts, including seven of the previous nine batters. He struck out Pedroia twice and he whiffed leadoff hitter Daniel Nava three times — once on his magic-trick change-up, once with his curveball and once with his blazing fastball.
In total, Strasburg would induce 20 swing-and-misses, a new career high. He “kind of had a little bit of a breakthrough” with his breaking ball, he said, from a fascinating source. Strasburg wanted to make an adjustment with the pitch. He sought advice from Rick Ankiel, the outfielder who once was the hottest pitching prospect in baseball, before he lost the ability to throw a strike.
“I watched him growing up,” Strasburg said. “He had one of the best curveballs in the game, and he knew how to throw it and he knew how to use it to his advantage.”
With one out in the sixth inning, however, the Red Sox mounted a charge. Pedroia singled to left, Adrian Gonzalez doubled off the Green Monster and Ortiz drew a walk. Ross Detwiler heated up in the bullpen as Strasburg’s pitch count climbed past 100, toward his career high of 108 set earlier this season. The bases were loaded, the Nationals led, 7-2, and the Red Sox had their best chance to make it a game.