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Ask Boswell: Stephen Strasburg strikes out 14 in first start

Stephen Strasburg dazzles in his first major-league game as Washington beats Pittsburgh, 5-2, at Nationals Park.

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Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Wednesday, June 9, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell was online Wednesday, June 9 to take all your questions about Stephen Strasburg's debut, the Nats, Major League Baseball and more.

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A transcript follows

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Washington, D.C.: I think what impressed me most last night was the ease with which he threw. It looked like he was just playing catch out there. In my mind the delivery reminded me of Mussina or Maddux. Did it bring anyone to mind for you? (The motion, not the results.)

Tom Boswell: The last person I saw march through a batting order with that combination of stuff, command and disdain was Koufax. Never thought I'd say such a thing. He only threw 18 balls to the last 19 hitters!

Strasburg hit 100 twice, 99 17 times, 98 14 times and averaged 97.8 on 56 fastballs. He threw 25 curves. idn't have time to figure out what percentage. And 13 changeups. Almost an ideal ratio.

Pudge was in heaven. He called back-to-back changeups twice. Tripled up on the curve once, then got a changeup for the K (third Milledge at bat).

Yes, it looked effortless, though his face shows the intensity.

There's no reason not to compare him now to others like Dwight Gooden, young Clemens or the old (polished) Ryan when he "only" threw 96-99.

He had very good-to-great stuff/command every minor-league game. This, or 90% of this, is what you're going to see almost every time out. But, as Young showed, you can guess right and hit him. Sometimes. First time up, Pudge called fast, change, change, fast (100), curve to Young for a K. He made the mistake of duplicating the sequence next time up -- fastball, change ... ooops, that one's not coming back.

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Rockville, Md.: Wasn't it nice to see a large crowd that arrived early, stayed late and was almost entirely for the Nats?

Tom Boswell: If you could measure Total Noise -- decibels X seconds of cheering -- then the crowd was, perhaps, 10 times as loud as normal. It was nuts.

Washington fans aren't re-sophisticated yet. Oh, plenty are. But not in groups of 20-25K. But they know way more than enough to get into a high-K game or no-hitter. And they just went crazy, standing, cheering, chanting, from the first pitch on. And almost a "red out." Much more showing of team colors than I've seen before.

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2 hours 19 min: That was wonderful. Never had as much fun or excitement at a game before. I live in western Loudoun. Went to Friday's game w/Livo pitching. Sailed home after the game, still didn't get there until after midnight. Last night hit construction on 110 and 66, had to detour up Wilson from Rosslyn to Glebe and got home at 11:15. The kid works fast!!!

Tom Boswell: The ump had to slow him down to get the commercials in. Guess they didn't have those at San Diego State or Syracuse -- or not as many.

The Strasburg games, as long as he's healthy, which I hope is the next 15 years since there really are plenty of pitchers who DON'T get (seriously) hurt, will be entirely different and amazing experiences, like the huge crowds that showed up for Koufax everytime/everywhere he pitched.

General interest in the Nats, and enthusiasm at games, will increase because of this. But nothing like the SS games. And I suspect that with a semi-soft and/or home schedule the next six weeks, and this incredible energy jolt, that you'll see the Nats make a run back about .500 and into (marginal) contention by the All-Star break.

Will they trade for Cory Hart (15 homers), Fukodome (.386 on-base), Xavier Nady (has Nats friends) or Brad Hawpe in Colorado. A Nats source confirmed those are the right names, though maybe not all of the names, but that the Nats would only be interested in a RF that they could retain for more than one year. Not a four-month fix, but a RF for 2-3 years until Harper is ready and perhaps beyond that with one of them to LF.

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Reston, Va.: I watched the National's play last night. Like so many others, I was amazed at Strasburg's pitching. He gets incredible movement on the ball. And he certainly can bring the heat. Assuming he continues to play at that level for many years to come, to whom can you compare him? What other pitchers - throughout baseball's history - could be compared with Strasburg? Or, if he can pitch this way consistently, is there any comparison to be made? Thank you, and keep up the good work. I truly enjoy reading your columns.

Tom Boswell: I've tried to stay sane about him from the beginning. I wrote: Pick him, but don't pay him $50M (the first planted rumor) because pitchers get hurt too often. But sign him for by far the highest amateur draft contract ever. Then don't push him too fast. You may have me (in part) to blame that he didn't pitch the last exhibition game against the Red Sox. When it was mentioned in passing to me, a Nats front office guy said, "I didn't know you could curse that many times in so few seconds." And I thought, while he tore up the minors, that he should get 10 starts. If Pudge hadn't gotten hurt, he'd have started June 4. Can't prove it. Don't intend to try. But he would have. And you say why last night. SS worships him, as he should, and it calms him and incerases his already astronomical confidence.

By the way, if Strasburg pitches somewhat like this every five days, with very few injuries, for the next 20 years, he'll have about as good a career as a pitcher as Rodriguez has as a catcher. But, of course, Pudge isn't finished yet -- now hitting .331 and won't get his 3,000th hit until '12. Bet he gets it in D.C. He loves it here, is crazy about Strasburg. They were made for each other.

Let me get back to the question! So, it's time to stop being calm, telling people to be patient because Clemens (and others) had several rough early starts. Gooden, in his 17-9 year at 19, got absolutely crushed three times in his first 8 starts -- eight earned runs in one of them -- then was lights out for the next 1 3/4 seasons.

Now, the proper comparisons are probably different. Now we should be looking at 19-to-22-year-old pitchers who are already at their peak and in a groove -- Fidrych (two-hitter in his first starts, back-to-back 11-inning wins in his 3rd and 4th), Valenzuela, Vida Blue, Gooden.

When a pitcher is this locked in, he doesn't get messed up (baring injury) at any point in THAT season. Maybe the next season. So, all that talk about "maybe nerves," maybe this, maybe that, with a 6-5 record and 3.75 ERA. Forget it. Now we're talking about 15-16 starts with an ERA around 2.50 maybe and who knows what next year. Some of the few Strasburg comparables had their one sub-2.00 ERA year in their second or third seasons. Sheinen and I were talking about this last night. This game, the poise, the stuff, being inspired, not distracted, by the crowd, it all changes the picture. This has a high probability of turning into our version of Fernandomania. Quite likely, especially since his first four starts are all against bottom-six offensive teams, that he will get on a dominant role that reinforces itself, with a couple of poor games, from now until Sept 1 when they shut him down and everybody lines up to jump off the 14th Street bridge with the Nats three games out of the wild card or some such.

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Arlington, Va.: Boz, what a magical evening. As a life-long D.C. sports fan, it was one of the best moments I've experienced. From the cheers during warm ups, to the thunderous applause for each strikeout, to the towering homers by Zimm, Dunn and Willingham. Can we bottle this feeling?

Tom Boswell: It ranks, just for the joy of the crowd, the constant noise at RFK, with the 26-3 win over Dallas to go to the Super Bowl. But, of course, this game was "for" nothing. So, not comparable. Also, Bullet crowds in the late '70's in deep playoff runs had the TV people getting out decibel meters. I'm sure I could think of a couple of dozen others.

But it was the pure FUN of this game, with no real stakes except a sense of debut history being created, a Next Great One legend perhaps being born, that made this so special.

Remember, SS has now started 15 games, counting 3 in spring training and 11 in the minors. He's been some variation of the same pitcher in every one of them. nd nothing yet has flustered him, including back-to-back homers to lead off the game by the regular Cards lineup in Florida when he came back and struck out everybody in sight over the next four innings.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Bos, quite simply, it was a privilege to be at Nats Park last night and see that performance. Very few things in life exceed expectations. Strasburg transcended them.

Tom Boswell: Yup. Gonna let some of you nice folks have your say this a.m.

As my grandfather the (very) evangelical preacher probably wouldn't have said, "Testify to Jeezus!"

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What a night: Bos, I've been thinking about regular season games that matched this one in terms of excitement and performance in the face of huge buildup. The only two I can come up with are:

--Ripken breaking Gehrig's record --The O's vs. the Brewers, last game of the '82 season, first place in the NL East on the line, Earl Weaver's "last game" as manager (nobody thought he'd come back)

Anything come to mind for you?

Tom Boswell: I was a little concerned that, up until last night, the worst two games of Strasburg's career -- granted, that's a relative term -- had been his two biggest. Loses to Cuba in the Olympics and U-Va. in the NCAA tournament last year.

Guess we can stop fretting about that big-game stuff. Maybe the 13K crowds in the minors got him ready, some, for the 40K last night. It took him five hitters to stop throwing the ball all over the place -- counts of 2-0, 3-1, 3-0, 3-2 to four of those hitters -- but then he locked down like the great pitchers do in the big games. And for individual (not team) pressure, how much bigger is it ever going to get for him?

Before the game, he was sitting on a Nats sofa watching one of the four TV's on the four sides of a big column in the middle of the room. Three TVs were on ESPN with Strasburg stories constantly. The fourth was on "Cash Cab" on the Animal Planet. Storen said, "He was watching "Cash Cab." I knew he would be. I can't imagine how he can be so calm."

His teammates don't like him. They love him. Met set quite a high bar for young Harper. Or perhaps SS, Zimmerman, Pudge, etc., will simply set an example that he can't resist modeling himself after. Suspect the latter.

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D.C.: Well ... that was an amazing night of baseball. I am so happy for Strasburg and his family, that he was able to enjoy such a night. It was an enthralling game, which is something new to Nationals baseball. I think Pudge and Strasburg were fantastic in the press conference postgame. Just all so positive and everything to feel good about.

The only downer for me is that my dad was not around to see this. He and I would have been marveling together, in increasing disbelief, during that game.

I do have a question. When Strasburg came up to bat, the MASN announcers where suggesting he had not hit since playing in college. Can that be true? I thought I had heard he had some numbers from AA or AAA, and wouldn't our farm team's pitchers bat as well?

Tom Boswell: SS was 4-for-10 in the minors. He hit the ball solidly both times last night. I think there's so Livo technique in there! That top-spin swing to try to bounce grounders through the infield. SS could easly has beaten out a ground ball to deep shorts. He runs his wind sprints faster than he trotted to first. Pudge teased him in the dugout. But I'm sure somebody had told him, "If you blow out a hamstring running the %^&$#% bases tonight, you have to give back the $15M. You can keep the other $100,000."

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Joe West?: Tom

Are you taking questions from other games today? I was wondering about Joe West's call in the Friday night game at 3rd base. Desmond was called after trying to take 3rd. The 3rd base umpire initially called Desmond safe, presumably deciding that Desmond was pushed off the bag by Rollen's tag. Then West comes over from 3rd and calls Desmond out. I don't understand how he can do that.

What can you tell us about Joe West? Ron Dibble sure isn't a fan of his.

Tom Boswell: Joe West is an idiot. And has been for 15 years. Back when he was young and big, players wondered if he tried to injure them with wrestling stuff when he was "breaking up" fights. I watched him after that and thought it was possible. But no one will ever know. However, that's how bad his reputation has been for a long time. Selig should have gotten him out of the majors 10 years ago. Putting West on the same crew-from-hell as Angel Hernandez, whom I once saw use the 13-letter word about 10 times to Nice Guy Carlos Delgado (who just stood there looking at him like hernandez had lost his mind) shows how messed up things are. Hernandez should be long gone, too. Both are looking for fights or attention constantly. Both are bitter belligerant guys. An umpire must get calls correct AND conduct himself properly. West and Hernandez are so awful at the later that they make the fotrmer irrelevant. I regret to say that I once watched an entire game just to see if West actually was good on balls and strikes. That day, he was.

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Section 125 near the Pirates fan who got razzed on Dunn's HR: Hi, Boz,

Have you ever heard the ballpark like that? It reminded me of the three dozen Pedro Martinez starts I saw at Fenway from 1998 to 2001.

As for Strasburg's nickname ... a MLB.com reporter's article on the Nats' website was headlined "K Street." Why didn't we think of that sooner, considering all the political types and lobbyists in D.C.?

We have our nickname. We, Nats Town, dub thee Stephen "K Street" Strasburg.

I asked Stan if it would be okay for fans to post K signs on the Section 238 concrete overhang and he approved of the idea. Just getting the word out...

Tom Boswell: Thanks. Nice. Maybe we can call it South Capital (a.k.a K) Street when Strasburg pitches.

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D.C.: Awesome night last night, Tom. So now what? Are the Lerners going to spend to build a contending team around this kid? Or are we going to be talking about trading him for prospects 5 years from now, before he hits free agency, and without anything to show for it a la The Tribe with CC and Cliff Lee?

Tom Boswell: Plenty of time for that. Enjoy the 6 2/3 years Washington will have him. It's not nice to try to guess how 21-year-old will feel when they are 27. Maybe he'll still love SoCal. That's his business. People are allowed to go back home to work near their families. He's not an indentured servant. We'll he is for 6 2/3 years.

Just enjoy the next 200 starts. And hope that his arm, on the inside, looks like Tom Seaver's, not Kerry Wood's.

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Alexandria, Va.: What was the umpire talking to Strasburg about after the second (?) inning? McCatty didn't seem concerned ...

Tom Boswell: Hey, kid, got a plane to catch?

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Sec. 128: The White Sox are apparently listening to offers for Andruw Jones. Any reason why that wouldn't solve the RF problem in part?

Tom Boswell: Can he still run enough to play RF? (I don't know.) What's his relationship with Kasten who'd have to think he'd fit into the clubhouse. (I don't know.) Right now, Jones doesn't fit the profile of the 28-to-30 year-old guy, good for several years, that the Nats say they want.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Did anyone get on Stras for not running out that first groundball he hit which for most players would have been a hit?

Tom Boswell: No.

Another night, when he's not using up so much extra energy coping with the hype/stress of a first start, maybe they'll want him to run things out. That was a Livo trot. Get a clean or take a right turn and get some rest. In the minors, I saw Strasburg run the bases at normal speed. But if this guy gets hurt trying to prove what a wonderful athlete he is, the way Shawn Hill did in that hot-box rundown off third base -- it started the downfall of a first-rate career -- it'll be a disgrace.

To this day, I don't know if Koufax was physically able to run.

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Strasburg's biggest advantage...: Might turn out to be the philosophy of the modern hitter: "wait for a good pitch to hit." Unless his control is really off, if you wait for more than 2-3 pitches, you're going to really be in trouble. I thought Toledo (with Carlos Guillen there on rehab) had some success looking for the fastball early in the count and driving the pitch the opposite way.

I think the "patient" hitters are going to be dead meat against this guy.

Tom Boswell: Agree.

One of the main reasons that "strike two" is so enormously important in watching a baseball game (and "ball three," too) is because the rules of the game actually change at that point. Now you are "out" or "take your base" on the next ball or strike. The column I wrote recently on The Count illustartes that. The fact that "strike three" is the REASON that strike two is so important only underlines why you can only watch the game for max entertainment/understanding if you grasp how all the numbers in the sport change astronomically after the hitter has "used up" his two "free" strikes -- to guess, to "zone," etc. -- or the pitcher has used up his three balls -- to make the hitter "chase" or make a perfect pitch to a perfect spot.

Even on balls-put-in-play with two strikes, the MLB slugging average goes down 50 points from the norm. What balls-put-in-play misses is that hitters "chase" -- and strike out -- more once they get to two strikes and have to protect the plate. One reason Dunn gets so many walks, which compensates for a multitude of sins, is that he (when he's going well) refuses to chase even with two strikes. That sure hasn't been the case recently. But he looked good last night (finally) with three hits. Up to .280. I told him last night I didn't want to talk to him again until the subject could be "RBI."

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Just enjoy the next 200 starts: Tom, I understand the kid's not an indentured servant, and I guess that's my point. I don't want to just enjoy watching a potential star player or two, I want to enjoy watching championship baseball. But since we might only have 6+ seasons with him, the clock is ticking. Are the Lerners going to tell Kasten and Rizzo to open the vault? Or are they just going to pray that guys like Zimmermann and Marrero pan out?

Tom Boswell: Some of both. If you would like to help, you (not you specifically, but people in general) could actually attend the games so the team wouldn't be 23rd in attendance. (Though SS may move them up to 20th by the end of the season.) The Lerner's could certainly loosen the purse strings another knotch. But payroll and revenue goes together. Of course that gets into lots of other issues. Not for today.

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Spotsylvania, Va.: The Pirates weren't swinging wildly at bad pitches, they were swinging at pitches that every batter from Seattle to Tampa will take cuts at. The balls move around like Barry Sanders, and they do it at 95 mph. You can smoke a cigarette on the curve ball -- no point in swinging. Batters on streaks will be sitting games out when Strasburg pitches. When he finds himself dazed, he can go upstairs to buy time to get right -- no one is going to crowd 98 high and tight. No one. It's silly to think that the Pirates, which happen to be one of MANY teams significantly below .500 that the Nats will face, aren't representative of what Strasburg will do. They are. Unless the Yankees and Sox are changing league lodgings, Strasburg will be feasting no less than 85 percent of his games. And in all games, unless the DH comes over, he'll be dealing to pitchers a few times per as well. So let's give it up, get in line, and be happy he's clean, probably can't spell HGH, and makes us all ashamed that we ever allowed ourselves to say we didn't care about guys on juice. We do care, and we should care. This guy has me happy about baseball again. Like I was when I was on Walt's Little League team back in 1970.

One last thing: What was really neat about last night's game (the competition itself) was how his teammates held him up as soon as the Pirates touched him up in the middle. They didn't let the kid worry for one second -- dingers, two run lead, done. Letting the relievers salt it away made it, somehow, a team win. Can you believe that?

Loved it.

Tom Boswell: Great post.

One additional point. While the Pirates are dead last in runs -- the Orioles "passed" them last night while losing by a bunch -- Pittsburgh is NOT an easy team to strkeout. They were 15th out of 30 teams in K's without a single player on an ultra-high pace. In other words, the Pirates make 'average" contact.

And they made almost no contact whatsoever -- 17 swinging strikes. (That's a lot.)

lt's of note, three pitchers started their careers with 15K games -- Spooner, Richard and Feller. Spooner made two starts as a rookie in '54 and fanned 27 in 18 innings with six walks. He only pitched one more year --'55-- then was finished. (Don't remember why.) Of course, Richard and Feller were 300-K monsters. But J.R.'s career was cut short.

That's probably about the breakdown on the odds of SS's future. 1/3 HOF. 1/3 years of dominance, but a physical problem. 1/3 Prior/Spooner/Fidrych.

Lets stop talking about the last category. And it's probably not as bad as 1/3. Zimmermann's already back throwing 94 after TJ surgery. Lets just enjoy it. Strasburg seems very good at doing that himself!

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Corona, Calif.: Nats fan in CA here. Would the Nats really shut him down in September if they were legitimately in the race, and SS was the main reason for it? And if the answer to that is "yes," and the Nats, against all odds, still made the playoffs, would he really not pitch in the playoffs?

Not saying that this is likely this year, but with this fascination with pitch counts, this scenario will inevitably happen with some team out there ...

Tom Boswell: Yes, that's what would happen.

And if Jordan Zimmermann is throwing 94-96 out of the bullpen in September, I doubt they'd put him in the rotation to make the playoffs (hypothetically) either.

They'd just have to make do with Marquis, Lannan, Wang, Olsen and Hernandez. And that still might be the deepest rotation (if Wang came back) in the N.L. East. Oh, Detwiler's minor league season has started.

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Scottsdale, Ariz. (Land of Wilbon): Not a question, but a comment. Just wanted to weigh in on the Strasburg sensation. I went to a sports bar out here to watch SS and the NBA Finals last night. Before the tip of the game, probably half of the tvs were on the Nats game (and this is definitely not a baseball town).

After the basketball game tipped, about a third of the tvs stayed on the Nats game. The local radio stations are already talking about whether he will make a start when the Nats have a 4-game series out here.

I've been in Ariz. since the Diamondbacks debuted ('98) and I've never seen the excitement about an individual player from another team coming here. The locals get excited about other teams (Yanks, Red Sox, Cubs) coming, but not individual players. Amazing stuff ...

Tom Boswell: Check. Thanks, AZ.

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Columbia, Md.: Boz, Could you give us a rough idea on what Strasburg's schedule might be ... I have tickets for the June 26th game at Camden Yards.. Do I have a chance?

Tom Boswell: Every fifth day -- not every fifth game -- from here until eternity. Or free agency. Whichever comes first.

Rioggleman already has SS on the chart every fifth day. You work around that.

One of the reasons the Nats have played like madmen all year is that they knew what was coming with Storen and especially Strasburg. Writers analyze and wonder. Ballplayers actually know.

He will (probably) pitch against the Indians on the 13th, the White Sox at home the 18th and the Royals at home the 23rd. The O's will miss him. Of course, NO ONE KNOWS. Buyer beware. It's a sport with rain and X factors. But that's how it lines up now.

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Cleveland Park: I love that this kid seems so old-school - in his demeanor and even haircut. He's like Roger Maris and I love it.

So I beg you media people not to give him crap for not being an exciting personality. Please pardon him for not creating alter egos and dressing up to press conferences in costumes. He could be the most boring human alive, and he's still electrifying on the mound. That's good enough for me.

Tom Boswell: He's a nice quiet modest young man with great athletic confidence and focus. He was old enough to vote before he ever became "a star." He wasn't ruined at 10, 12, 14.

He's got a nice little sense of humor. As they said of Walter Johnson after his first game, he "appears to have above average intelligence for a ballplayer and should be able to learn all that is required." (Or something like that.) He deeply wants to be liked by teammates. Clippard talked about how great it was "to really be able to like a guy" that human nature might lead you to envy. We all knew (roughly) what he was in Florida and hung out around him, talked a little about baseball, didn't bug him. He'll be fine with the DC media. Those who want flash can look elsewhere. Or just watch him pitch.

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Silver Spring, Md.: ESPN had on a commentator saying Strasburg may get banged around later on when he faces tougher line-ups than Pittsburgh's. Would you agree with that? Thanks for the chat!

Tom Boswell: Yeah, he'll give up five hits, one walk, three runs and only strike out eight.

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Washington, D.C.: How in the world did Jonathan Newton get that amazing shot of Strasburg's first pitch, gracing the cover of the Post today? Somehow both a swath of fans and Strasberg are in focus, everything else in apparent motion. A photo for the ages!

Tom Boswell: Newton is amazing. We don't know how he did it but Matt Vita was showing to us after the game. We were just shaking out heads. I thought our layout, headline (A Debut that's 14K Gold") and breadth of coverage was just what you'd expect from us. Trust me, a lot less people are doing even more work than has always been generated by the Post sports pages. Speaking for others, not for me, if you wanted to apreciate what you are getting for 75 cents, or getting on the internet for free, it wouldn't kill you.

Newspapers still rock. And the people who put out today's section should take a bow. (End of commecial endorsement.)

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Arlington, Va.: My favorite thing about Strasburg: he wears real baseball pants - not the slacks that most others in the game wear. That has to be worth an extra two or three Ks per game.

Tom Boswell: Yup.

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Penn Ave: Would you have thrown Strasburg's homer given up back? Im suprised that guy in the stands did!!

Tom Boswell: I'm impressed the guy did it. We only sent nine writers. f we'd had a 10th, maybe we could have interviewed him.

Sorry I couldn't find a way to use all my interviews of the fans who were hanging over the bullpen to watch Strasburg warm up. One (Brett McColley) was the baseball coach at Lee High School in NVa and said he was talking video to help his players with instruction. "I hope this gets kids excited about baseball again." If it doesn't, I don't know what will.

Ari Schantz stopped me and said, "I've got the Daily Double."

Me: ???

Ari: "Strasburg and Teddy."

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Annapolis, Md.: Bos, great night at the park last night! I needed some assistance to get to and around at the game, but my friends and Nats staff were very helpful and I had a wonnderful time.

You and your collegues have written so many excellent articles on Strasburg, especially surrounding this game. Are there any plans to publish a commemorative booklet or magazine? I've been saving some in an Internet folder but a freestanding publication would be so much more convenient. Thanks.

Tom Boswell: Good idea.

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Washington, D.C.: Boz-

Could we really be entering a golden age of sports in Washington? 1) Strassy comes up and produces

2) Ovie is still the best player in Hockey

3) Leonsis gets control of the Washington NBA Franchise (I refuse to call them the Wi.....) AND has the top pick in the draft

4) Snyder has given up control to Allen and Shanny

In the next couple of years, it could be amazing here. No?

Tom Boswell: Several out of town writers to wanted to interview me about that, even one from NYC!

The word is out: D.C. is coming back, fast.

I actually do think towns have sports cycles and I think that the athletes in one sport feed off and root for the athletes in the others. It's not a huge factor. But it exists.

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Downtown D.C.: Will last nights performance making it harder to keep SS on a pitch count? Will a sell out crowd also wanting one more strikeout make it hard to go to the bull pen?

Tom Boswell: They'll probably let him go 95-to-105 pretty soon. That's enough. Clip-Store-and-Save.

Capps came out throwing 97, 96, 96, then all 95s last night. Pudge had him back pounding fastballs on every pitch except one. Capps needs to establish that he has command of the bottom of the zone and can also expand the bottom of the zone with his slider. THEN he can go up the ladder if he wants because he's also very effective at the letters.

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Gainesville, Va.: Will the Nats enter into long-term deals with Dunn and Willingham. A key part of the game was the sluggers hitting HRs. Is a 2012 3-4-5-6 lineup of Zim, Dunn, the Hammer, and Harper possible?

Tom Boswell: Thanks. I'd almost forgotten.

Willingham is lead the league in on-base percentage.

But Zmmerman may be reaching a new level. Because he missed so many games early, it's been disguised. He's leading the N.L. in both slugging (.599) and OPS 1.013). And he was even better in spring training, slugging .786 with six homers in 56 at bats. Put it all together, he's slugging .644. It starting to look like he has 40-homer power. We'll see.

Right now, Zim, Willingham and Dun rank 1-6-8 in the N.L. in OPS. They are 1-3-16 in on-base percentage with Pujols No. 2 between Willingham and Zimmerman.

Yes, of course, you want to extend Dunn for another two years or three max. And, yes, you should want to get Willingham, under team control through '11, done for both '11 and '12. No, you don't want to be tied to them at 35 when (recession effect) nobody is getting long deals. But that's all the more reason to go out to age 32-33.

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Harper: Hey Boz, why can't Harper make the team next year? There have been a number of 18 year olds that have started in the majors, i.e. Ken Griffey Jr., Robin Yount, some pitchers, etc.. Why make this kid wait?

Tom Boswell: He needs to grow up. Up late '12 at 19 earliest. Starter in '13, earliest. I may change my mind, but I doubt it.

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Not a fan of baseball : I've never been a baseball fan, but Strasburg sure got my attention! I do not know much about baseball, so how often do these pitchers pitch? How many days off will he get and when will be the next time he pitches again? I want to get tix for that game.

Tom Boswell: Welcome aboard. Every fifth day.

This is how a fan base expands. Similar to the Caps. People who don't know icing can understand Ovechkin.

Dominant stuff pitchers and tape-measure home run hitters create fans. Strasburg will immediately have the highest average fastball speed (above Jimenez) and Dunn has the longest average-distance home runs in baseball. Oh, gold glove feilders like Zimmerman and Pudge are draws, too.

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The O's will miss him.: I love that. To the man that kept baseball out of DC for so long, he does not benefit.

Tom Boswell: Gee, I wonder if that crossed their minds. He'll miss by one day.

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No on Fukodome: Here's why ... there's an outfielder playuing for the I-Cubs by the name of Sam Fuld who is better than Fukodome. Tyler Colvin has his spot currently (we all knew his Spring was too good to be true).

-In the interest of full disclosure, Sam is my wife's cousin's husband.)

Tom Boswell: Inside info. Only here, folks. The fourth and fifth Cub outfielder exclussive.

(Seriously, thanks.)

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Virginia Beach: Okay, call me a non-believer, but the last time the DC area media hyped (before talk radio and the internet) a player this big was an Oriole named Ben McDonald. He started real strong at 5-0 before he was figured out.

I know it's one start, but against the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates (who have the worst team BA in all of baseball). His next start is against the equally bad, last place Cleveland Indians.

All I am saying is let's see what he does against the more talented lineups (like the Phillies) and starts seeing teams a second time around before we appoint him the top pitcher the world has ever seen at 21 (a la Dwight Gooden).

Tom Boswell: No, lets not wait. We've BEEN waiting.

One start doesn't put him in the Hall of Fame or even an All-Star game. But it shows his ceiling. In the majors.

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Pirates Quote: Hey Boz,

I always enjoy reading the hometown paper after events like last night. Here's a quote from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"It was nasty, all of it, everything he did," shortstop Ronny Cedeno said after striking out on a changeup and a 99-mph fastball. "That kid is going to be the best pitcher in the National League."

Tom Boswell: Thanks.

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Springfield, Va.: We saw Pudge in Woodbridge the other night, and I was really impressed with how he interacted with those players and then with fans after he left the game - a total class act. Is there a chance that the Nats might hold onto him until he retires for the presence he brings in addition to his skills?

Tom Boswell: I certainly hope he's here through '12 and the 3,000th hit. Of course, he has to hit and catch well enough to play, like anybody else. But he also hit .330 in spring training. He has a new shorter stroke. Lots of doubles, few homers. That should serve him for a couple of years.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: I've been planning a trip to see SS pitch, but I"m wondering if it's not better to watch him on TV. On TV you can really see the movement and the bottom drop out of the curve. Unless you have great seats, you likely won't see that will you? Is it worth the trouble to see him live, or should I just watch him on TV?

Tom Boswell: The crowd experience was superb. Hey, come home and watch the tape of (only) his seven innings with a fast-forward remote in 30-40 minutes. Then you see it both ways.

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Bos, we're glad to have you but...: This chat is going to end up lasting longer than last night's game!

Tom Boswell: Thanks. I'm only 19 minutes short. Ridiculous. But so was last night. Thanks. See you next Thursday from the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

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