Stephen Strasburg sets Washington Nationals strikeout record, gets win in debut

Stephen Strasburg dazzles in his first major-league game as Washington beats Pittsburgh, 5-2, at Nationals Park.
By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The near-capacity crowd stood and cheered a moment like none of them had ever witnessed at Nationals Park. The five years of losing, the months of waiting, the breathless hype, it all led to this: Stephen Strasburg standing on the top step of the home dugout in a Washington Nationals jersey, having done something nobody could believe. Strasburg looked into the stands and lifted his cap.

There should have been no way Strasburg could have matched the expectations attached to his first major league start Tuesday night. And yet he surpassed them. Strasburg struck out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates in seven innings, setting a new Nationals record on one of the most momentous days since baseball returned to the District.

"It was just a great night for baseball in Washington," Manager Jim Riggleman said.

In a 5-2 Nationals victory -- Strasburg's first major league win -- the Pittsburgh Pirates appeared just as helpless as the minor leaguers the right-hander had feasted on for the past two months. Strasburg struck out all nine Pirates in the starting lineup and struck out the final seven batters he faced. He hit 100 mph on the radar gun twice, allowed two runs on four hits -- including a two-run home run by Delwyn Young in the fourth inning -- walked none and forged a new milestone in Washington sports history.

Even in his 11 minor league starts, Strasburg had not dominated so thoroughly, never surpassing nine strikeouts in one game. After Young's home run, Strasburg retired the final 10 hitters he faced, striking out eight of them. No pitcher in baseball history had ever struck out 14 or more batters while using fewer than 96 pitches. Strasburg needed 94.

In the seventh inning, the electric display that counts strikeouts as Ks in the Nationals Park outfield went blank. The scoreboard, the Nationals learned, contained only 12 Ks. "Why would I have had to know that?" team President Stan Kasten said.

Afterward, Strasburg gave a television interview in front of the Nationals' dugout. Pitcher John Lannan snuck behind him and smeared a shaving-cream pie in his face. Scott Olsen did the same. Center fielder Nyjer Morgan lifted up a plastic, silver Elvis wig -- the totem the Nationals award to the player of the game -- and slapped it on Strasburg's head as the phenom smiled through shaving cream.

Strasburg said it stung "a little bit. But it's the greatest feeling in the world."

After Strasburg threw his final warm-up pitches -- he chose "Seven Nation Army" by the White Stripes to blare over the stadium speakers -- the crowd readied. Camera flashes flickered on his first pitch to Andrew McCutheon -- a 97-mph fastball low and inside. Immediately after the game, Strasburg said he remembered only that pitch.

Two pitches later, McCutheon lined out to shortstop Ian Desmond. Strasburg's career had started. "There were definitely a little bit of nerves," Strasburg said. "I thought there were going to be more nerves than there was."

Strasburg operated without a scouting report, relying on future Hall of Fame catcher Iván Rodríguez. Strasburg shook off Rodriguez just once. Rodríguez wanted Strasburg to throw a curveball to start the game. "He told me, 'No,' " Rodríguez said.

The Pirates could figure out none of his pitches -- his first three strikeouts came on a 99-mph fastball, an 83-mph curveball and an 89-mph darting change-up that sailed faster than most of the fastballs thrown by Jeff Karstens, the Pirates' starting pitcher.

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