I remember Lebron James’s debut 25 points 9 rebounds 6 assists, Yao Ming’s uninspiring 13 points, Mario Lemieux’s goal on his first NHL shift, Michael Vick running for his life in week 16 of the 2001 season and so on and so forth… I HAVE NEVER EVER IN MY LIFE SEEN A DEBUT LIKE STEPHEN STRASBURG’S TWO NIGHTS AGO!!!
You heard the hype about Strasburg; baseball’s been here before from the Mets trio of Bill Pulsipher, Paul Wilson and Jason Isringhausen, Hideo Nomo and Dice-K, Josh Hamilton and others. It seems like every week there’s a new “OMG he can’t be this good this soon, my god wait til he gets to the league” player. Hell the Yankees did it twice with Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. So when Strasburg’s debut was so hyped up to the point that it was getting more attention than game 3 of the NBA finals and game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals I immediately became suspicious.
Strasburg’s minor league starts were treated like playoff matchups on ESPN. They marveled at his control and dominance of minor league hitters more so than David Price’s amazing start for Tampa. There was marvel at his quick rise through the minor leagues and as the weeks crept closer, the announcement of his first start became more important than any BP announcement on how they plan on stopping this oil spill.
Dare I say that Strasburg mania was approaching Tebow mania levels of annoyance.
Then the announcement came that June 8, 2010 would be the day that the pitching Jesus would take the mound and begin to lead Washington to baseball salvation. With that decision came Strasburg first two starts that made me doubt if he was ready or not and if the pressure was getting to him. He allowed five earned runs in his last two starts in triple A ball and his velocity was down. Nerves getting to you Strasburg.
But it was an afterthought. The jerseys were on order, the stadium was sold out, and ESPN was on site for the biggest and most anticipated debut since Dice-K 4 years ago.
From a baseball perspective the hype was great for the game especially in a bottom dwelling baseball town like Washington. The Nationals have been terrible for every year except their inaugural season where they finished 82-80. This was just the life it needed pumped into it baseball scene.
The scene was euphoric. 40,000 plus fans standing and cheering Strasburg’s every motion from warm-up tosses to walking to the dugout. Then it was game time, and the talk ceased. Strasburg did more than deliver, he made it hard for every phenom in any sport to follow what he did.
He struck out seven of the first 13 batters he faced. His slurve was puzzling. His curveball? A perfect twelve-six. His fastball? Unhittable, 95 plus on the gun 34 times of his 94 pitches. His best pitch was his changeup, I thought Hughes has one of the best changes of any young pitcher in baseball but not after watching Strasburg. His changeup started over the plate and ended past Delwyn Young’s knees, at Garrett Jones’s feet and near Lastings Milledge’s shins. He had perfect command of every pitch. It was amazing to see a 21 year-old in such control and not allowing all that engulfed him to antagonize him.
Then came the fourth inning. He allowed two sharp singles to right field and his pitches began to lose velocity from the stretch. He settled down to get a double play ball but eventually one of those hanging breaking balls got pounded out of the yard by Young and we finally saw Superman weakened.
After the home run the best two qualities of Strasburg showed in his final seven batters. The first was his ability to shake off adversity. Most pitchers who get off to hot starts then run into trouble become skittish and begin to lose focus (ask Josh Beckett) Strasburg didn’t let Young’s home run get him down. He didn’t over throw pitches to compensate for that one mistake, he instead refocused and went back to work by getting Andy Laroche to ground out. He didn’t allow one more hit and struck out his last seven batters faced, blowing people away with that huge fastball clocked as high as 100 miles per hour, which brings up the next great thing about Strasburg…
As his pitch count increased, his velocity stayed the same. His powerful fastball started at 97 in the first inning and ended at 97 in the seventh as he fanned Laroche to end his stellar start. If it wasn’t his fastball his breaking pitches stayed consistent. He never fell behind another batter after the fifth inning and was precise with every toss. He didn’t pitch a perfect game by any means, but Strasburg was as good as Halladay, Jimenez, Braden or Galarraga in any of their amazing starts this year (and yes Galarraga pitched a perfect game no matter what Bud Selig rules that was a perfect game. Period).
As Strasburg walked off of the mound to a standing ovation, then received his shaving cream pie at the end of the game. You couldn’t help but wonder just what the hell that was that we just witnessed. Never in my sports life have I seen a young player with so much hype exceed it in just one outing. Terrelle Pryor, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Alex Gordon, Lebron and others have been just as hyped if not more than Strasburg, but none of them blew you to smithereens like Strasburg. I’m not saying that we should start make a plaque for the kid in the Hall of Fame right now, what I am saying is that everyone was right about the guy. Scott Boras was right to demand 15 million up front for him, the Nats were right to make such a big deal about him. Tim Kurkjian, Jayson Stark and Buster Olney were right to hype him up like he is the next Nolan Ryan. Strasburg is the real deal no question about it.
The funny think about the Strasburg start was that it happened on the same day as the MLB draft where the Nats took Bryce Harper number one overall. Harper has been pegged as the baseball equivalent of Lebron James with his remarkable combination of power and speed. He’s now baseball and the Nats next big thing. After what we just saw from Strasburg all I can say to Harper is good luck kid. This Strasburg guy just made your debut extremely hard to live up to.