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An event to cherish forever

Jun 9, 2010, 4:25 AM EST

Rachel Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER

There was no way Stephen Strasburg could live up to the hype, just no way. So much attention had been thrust upon the 21-year-old’s broad shoulders, so much expectation that was beyond the bounds of realism, you just knew he would leave you disappointed when you left Nationals Park tonight.

How Strasburg managed to take the mound under the weight of those outrageous expectations, block out the 40,315 fans who cheered his every move and the 200 media members who chronicled his every move and exceed those expectations by a factor of 50 … well, the sport of baseball may never see anything like this again.

Shoot, the sport had never seen anything like this before tonight. Perhaps the 15-strikeout debuts of the Dodgers’ Karl Spooner in 1954 and the Astros’ J.R. Richard in 1971 technically surpassed this. But both of those guys pitched the complete nine innings. And both walked at least one batter.

Strasburg struck out 14, didn’t walk a batter and incredibly didn’t throw one bad pitch. (That two-run homer by Delwyn Young in the fourth? It came on a 90 mph changeup that was down and away, excellent placement.)

No pitcher in the history of this sport had ever recorded more than 10 strikeouts without walking a batter in his big-league debut. No one. And no player in the history of this sport, regardless of position, had ever had the spotlight shining so brightly on him for his major-league debut. No one.

Strasburg managed to do the impossible. He overshot the highest level of expectation by so much, the scoreboard crew didn’t know what to do. Their strikeout meter only went up to 12. By the seventh inning, they had to make the thing read: “12+KK”.

Strasburg was so good, he left grown men speechless.

“I don’t know how you pitch any better,” Adam Dunn said, later adding: “He pitched probably the best game I’ve seen pitched.”

Ryan Zimmerman: “I don’t think you could write it much better.”

Jim Riggleman: “I really can’t put it into words.”

I don’t think anyone who was here tonight will be able to completely grasp what we witnessed for a long time. It may take years, once Strasburg’s career has been fully defined, before we can really appreciate this, even though everyone in attendance tonight understood this was more than just a ballgame.

“It was different,” Josh Willingham said. “You appreciate it. I know in my brief career, I haven’t played in front of an atmosphere like that before. It was really cool to me.”

About that atmosphere. “Electric” only begins to describe it. Not once the Nationals’ five-plus years of existence had a crowd been THIS into a ballgame. Not on Opening Night at RFK Stadium in 2005. Not during the 10-game winning streak that summer. Not on Opening Night at Nationals Park in 2008.

Tonight was entirely about baseball, and years down the road, we may very well look back at this as the night Washington finally became a baseball town. For the first time since this team arrived, fans didn’t have to be told when to cheer. They beat the scoreboard operators to it.

They cheered when Strasburg emerged from the dugout at 6:25 p.m. to begin stretching. They cheered when he departed from the bullpen at 7 p.m. They cheered when the PA announcer said his name for the first time. They cheered when he struck out his first batter. And they cheered every time he got two strikes on a batter.

“Really,” Willingham pointed out, “they cheered every pitch.”

Through it all, Strasburg was mostly oblivious to the scene around him. He made a point to soak it all in while he stretched in right field, but as he said, “Once they said, ‘Play ball,’ it was go time.”

“The only thing I really remember was the first pitch,” he said. “It was a ball inside. Everything else was kind of a blur.”

The Pirates could probably say the same thing about every one of the 94 pitches they saw from Strasburg. They never had a chance.

The crowd soaked in every single moment of it. How anyone could have left the ballpark at night’s end with anything other than a smile on his or her face is beyond me. And how anyone who watched this, either in person or on TV, couldn’t immediately want to come back out and see Strasburg pitch again is beyond me as well.

I figured tonight would be a one-time occurrence. Sure, there would be buzz every time Strasburg pitched, but the bump in attendance would be nominal. Tonight, though, Strasburg ensured that every single one of his starts will be an event, a rock concert. If he doesn’t draw an average of at least 35,000 to the rest of his outings this season, I’ll be stunned.

Of course, none of his future starts will ever compare to this. The scene will never be the same, the anticipation so high, the profound sense of wonderment and then amazement permeating the entire ballpark.

Every one of us here will carry a mental photograph of some moment from this game with us forever. Strasburg’s first pitch. His first strikeout. His last strikeout. His curtain call.

Somehow, some way, Stephen Strasburg managed to leave us all breathless.

  1. Hendo - Jun 9, 2010 at 4:35 AM

    Six to eight AM? Oh, great. I was going to sleep in. 8^D

  2. Section 222 - Jun 9, 2010 at 4:45 AM

    Beautiful account Mark. You summed it up perfectly. I'm a pretty serious baseball fan, and I have never been as into a game as I was tonight. Heck, I didn't check Twitter even once. The crowd was electric and watching Strasburg pitch was a total treat. His last two innings were like watching the World Series. Everyone on their feet cheering, high fives to people you've never met before and probably will never see again. It was magical. I think you're right about the impact this game will have on attendance at his subsequent starts. People will want to experience this kind of talent, and they really should. It is something to see.

  3. thebrowncoat - Jun 9, 2010 at 4:47 AM

    Well said Mark. You summed up exactly how I feel about the game, better than I could have said it myself.An amazing night I won't ever forget.

  4. Suicide Squeeze - Jun 9, 2010 at 4:55 AM

    Probably my top sports experience, which says a lot. I've never seen a pitcher whose pitches were so clearly nasty even to the casual fan. I mean, you could SEE the slurve break, the batter's knees buckle, the bat be just ridiculously ahead of the change up, or the heater just blow by a batter, And the crowd…WOW. Well done, DC, well done. BUZZ isn't even CLOSE to capturing it. And no one left after the 7th when Strasburg departed. I cannot WAIT until playoff baseball if it's anything like this….AWESOME night. So glad I was there.

  5. B.R. - Jun 9, 2010 at 5:02 AM

    "No pitcher in the history of this sport had ever recorded more than 10 strikeouts without walking a batter. No one."That can't be right. No pitcher making his debut, maybe. But Kerry Wood…?

  6. Anonymous - Jun 9, 2010 at 5:17 AM

    @1:02: Yeah, it's debut. Obviously there has been a 10-strikeout perfect game before (off the top of my head, Jonathan Sanchez last year–although, a no-hitter due to the error)

  7. Let Teddy Win - Jun 9, 2010 at 5:35 AM

    Thanks Mark. I'm watching it all re-run on MASN2 to make sure I really saw what I saw tonight. Hard to sum up a night that leaves you speechless. I think I'll just send this post to everybody I know.

  8. Anonymous - Jun 9, 2010 at 5:43 AM

    J.R. Richard was an Astro, not a Giant.

  9. Grant - Jun 9, 2010 at 5:51 AM

    Mark, I just watched some of the encore broadcast on MASN and noticed that Strasburg has the initials R.E.S. embroidered on his glove. A tribute to his wife, Rachel?

  10. Nats fan in NJ - Jun 9, 2010 at 9:10 AM

    I watched the game last night with my son (12) and daughter (9). My daughter could never understand a curveball until she say what Strasburg did. My son learned the art of a change up as he watched a 99 mph followed by a batter swinging meakly at an 88 mph off speed pitch. As a life long DC area fan (moved away due to work 4 years ago), very few times have I felt this giddy. Super bowls, Bullets' championship – this was on par with those.

  11. Dryw - Jun 9, 2010 at 10:45 AM

    Suicide Squeeze, you're right. Really no one left after Strasburg was pulled, and there was only a slight trickle through the end of the game. Maybe we really did become a baseball town last night.

  12. David - Jun 9, 2010 at 12:53 PM

    Best game since the April 14, 2005 Livo opener. Zimm's 2006 game vs. the Yankees goes to #3.

  13. phil dunn - Jun 9, 2010 at 1:06 PM

    Very impressive performance by Strasburg. However, a slight word of caution–Rizzo likely picked this game for Strasburg's first start because the Pirates have such a weak offense. Otherwise, he would have started against the Reds on June 4 (the Reds have offense). Now, if we can get Bryce Harper in right field in a year or two, things are going to get interesting.

  14. Anonymous - Jun 9, 2010 at 1:09 PM

    Any reports on what Metro at the Navy Yard station was like after the game? If nobody left early, then it must have been a mess.

  15. Andrew - Jun 9, 2010 at 1:13 PM

    Strasburg managed to do the impossible. He overshot the highest level of expectation by so much, the scoreboard crew didn't know what to do. Their strikeout meter only went up to 12. By the seventh inning, they had to make the thing read: "12+KK".Strasburg was so good, he left grown men speechless.Well said, and I am speechless.

  16. Big Oil - Jun 9, 2010 at 1:14 PM

    Transplanted to New York City for the summer, this game pushed the Yankees and Mets off the big screen at the local watering hole. And it did not disappoint. Unbelievable.

  17. Anonymous - Jun 9, 2010 at 1:24 PM

    Yawn….Opening Day 2005 was the GREATEST DAY in Nationals history. Don't fool yourselves, Straburg will have hundreds of starts for the Nationals, so seeing this one means ZERO! When he becomes a 20 game winner then I will be really excited, this was the Pirates that he mowed down and a marginal player hit a homerun off him!! Let me know when he mows down a major league team and I will celebrate loudly. Fortunately for us start #2 is against a team that is worse than the Pirates…the Indians!

  18. Anonymous - Jun 9, 2010 at 1:54 PM

    Give the frezny last night, how many folks actually get through the turnstiles today (if it is not a rainout) or tomorrow, I bet about 4,000!

  19. A DC Wonk - Jun 9, 2010 at 1:58 PM

    Yawn? What planet are you on. For starters, the kid is only 21 and had a huge amount of pressure on him. Furthermore, his 14 K's were the most of any Nationals pitcher against any team. He threw a huge amount a pitches at 97+ mph, and 69% of his pitches were for strikes and no walks — and the team he's facing is irrelevant for those numbers.

  20. Anonymous - Jun 9, 2010 at 2:05 PM

    For all you LOST fans out there, my new nickname for Strasburg: the Smoke Monster.

  21. Sasskuash - Jun 9, 2010 at 2:11 PM

    Mark- I thought Nats Park held 41k+ fans when they opened it in 2008? Also, with the additional 2,000 standing room seats available, how come the ticket sales were only 40,315? Did they remove seats at some point?

  22. Anonymous - Jun 9, 2010 at 2:19 PM

    Mark–any idea what the home plate ump said to Strasburg before the 2nd inning?

  23. Bowdenball - Jun 9, 2010 at 2:36 PM

    Anonymous 10:19-Strasburg works quickly, and this translates to his warmups as well. There's apparently a longer break between innings in the majors, and he was finishing his warmups with far too much time left. I believe the ump was telling him about the extra time between innnings and that he should slow down and maybe space out his warmup pitches.My personal plea to the Nats fans here: let's try to get to the park tonight or tomorrow and show the guys we're not just excited about Strasburg. Tonight's gonna be an understandably tough one to get to after last night and the forecast certainly doesn't look great. But Thursday's game will be either a rubber game or a series sweep opportunity, and it looks like another nice night for baseball. Let's send the team to Cleveland in style and hopefully with a chance to get back to .500.

  24. N. Cognito - Jun 9, 2010 at 2:41 PM

    Sasskuash said… "how come the ticket sales were only 40,315? Did they remove seats at some point?"Please tell me you're 10, a new fan or just got rescued from a deserted island. If not, this is sad.The game was a sellout. 40,315 was the number of tickets sold. The press, mlb and other guests filled the other seats.

  25. cadeck13 - Jun 9, 2010 at 2:45 PM

    Electric, The Bomb, The Best game I've ever attended. Great recap Mark and you are right, I'm still recapturing all my mental pictures; hopefully to store them in my mind's eye to relive for the rest of my life.One of my favorites is when McCatty & SS came out of the bullpen after the National Anthem was played and SS got a standing ovation. And there's McCatty waving his cap pretending we were standing & clapping for him, trying to give SS some levity in a hyped up situation. SS later said it made him laugh and helped break up the tension.One other note about the game, on SS first 2 pitches that were balls and the crowd booed. I was really disappointed by the boos so I loudly stated "How rude" and I was quickly informed by everyone around me that they were booing at the Ump not Strasburg.If the powers that be aren't paying attention to what this town could really be like with a winning team on the field, then somebody ought to ring their bell! I had tears streaming down my face (I know, there's no crying in baseball, but I just couldn't contain myself).It was a great day for Baseball in NatsTown!

  26. greg - Jun 9, 2010 at 2:45 PM

    i won't put this ahead of the 2005 opener. not for history purposes or for the electricity of the crowd. or the difficulty in getting a ticket. the ceremony of that game and the energy in the crowd still trumps this game. and that's not diminishing how much fun it was to be at least night's game. just trying to keep it in a little more perspective. i'd love to have been a fly on the wall in the pittsburg dugout, though. have to say i was surprised he threw as many four seam fastballs and less of the sinkers.

  27. Anonymous - Jun 9, 2010 at 2:46 PM

    In terms of the attendance, they announce tickets sold. If some were held back as freebies, there may have been a person in the seat but it doesn't go into the announced number.Mark … I was there and you captured it perfectly. This goes alongside the first games (@ RFK and then @ Nats Park) as reasons DC was wronged by baseball being gone for 34 years.Many seeds were sown last night to secure that that never happens again.Steve

  28. JayB - Jun 9, 2010 at 2:49 PM

    Mark,Between one of the middle innings the Home Plate Ump went out and talked to SS about something. Then he went to Steve McCatty and then to Pudge. Any idea what the issue was?

  29. Sasskuash - Jun 9, 2010 at 2:54 PM

    Steve @ 10:46: Thanks for the clear, polite response.N. Cognito: Teams can report their and count their attendance numbers differently. Some pro teams (in various sports) do count gate receipts as opposed to strict sales. I'm glad you took the opportunity to show yourself as a complete dick.

  30. Grant - Jun 9, 2010 at 3:01 PM

    JayB, see Bowdenball's explanation above at 10:36 re: the longer breaks between innings in major league games. That was the subject of the conversation.

  31. N. Cognito - Jun 9, 2010 at 3:02 PM

    It's sad because this gets asked just about every time there's a sellout, and the reason why I qualified it as you being a possible youngster, a new fan, or simply haven't been paying attention lately.Sorry you can't take a little ribbing.But let's end this here.

  32. The Great Unwashed - Jun 9, 2010 at 3:02 PM

    In the fifth inning, I saw the radar gun read 101 three times. In the seventh, I saw a reading of 103.Seeing Strasburg’s devastating heaters, his overall command, his dominant offspeed stuff — it just highlights how pedestrian the rest of the starting rotation is. And I say that with Livo having a pretty good year so far.One other thing of note: Strasburg pitched seven strong innings, followed in the 8th by Clippard’s violent and deceptive delivery, and then Capps closed it out with mid-90’s heaters. As Charlie Daniels says in that Geico commercial, “That’s how you do it, son.”I’m looking forward to seeing this on a regular basis.

  33. natsfan1a - Jun 9, 2010 at 3:31 PM

    Um, as a fan who has followed the Nats since day one, I must take exception to this comment.—For the first time since this team arrived, fans didn't have to be told when to cheer.

  34. DoubleH - Jun 9, 2010 at 3:50 PM

    Freakin' awesome! I had tix to 6/4 (took a shot, but not bitter) and couldn't make last night. Any clue on his next home start? 6/18 or 19?

  35. Anonymous - Jun 9, 2010 at 3:52 PM

    Someone asked above about the Metro. I left the gates exactly as the fireworks went off so slightly ahead of the crowd and metro was not bad at all. Not sure if it got worse after that though?Wish they would open a few bars and restaurants on half street already.. i'd grab dinner before and drinks after and metro wouldn't be a concern. Imagine fewer people would feel the need to leave early as well.

  36. Anonymous - Jun 9, 2010 at 4:02 PM

    I would rank this at the #3 most important game in Nats history (if you can call 2005-present history)..#1 2005 Opener #2 2008 Opener #3 Strasmas

  37. Anonymous - Jun 9, 2010 at 4:30 PM

    Did they remove seats at some point? Actually, they did. In 2008 and 2009 there were two rows of seats right in front of the Red Loft that were called the Batter's Eye Box. I sat there, once. Great seat, great view, but the drunks at the bar behind paying no attention to the game totally ruined the experience for me and well before the game was over I was forced to abandon ship in favor of greener pastures. Apparently they realized that this was a major problem with that section, because now the Batter's Eye Box is no more and those seats have been replaced with rows of stand-up tray railings like were already in front of the Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk bar. I don't know if they bothered to adjust the official stadium capacity to reflect that, though. It was probably less than 100 seats they removed.

  38. JPsfan and proud of it - Jun 9, 2010 at 4:30 PM

    Not to take anything away from Strasburg, but John Patterson pitched the best game in Nat's history with his complete game shutout of the Dodgers on August 4, 2005 – 4 hits, 13 strikeouts, no walks. Patterson pitched 2 complete games that year and in 2006, the year his arm started going bad, he again struck out 13 in 8 innings against the Marlins on April 15. Let's hope that Strasburg has better luck than Patterson, whose arm gave out on him and is now retired at the age of 32.

  39. Anonymous - Jun 9, 2010 at 4:32 PM

    "Any clue on his next home start? 6/18 or 19?"Yes.

  40. Kyle - Jun 9, 2010 at 4:33 PM

    Any word on the current situation of the rotation? It makes sense that Stammen went down, but where do J.D. Martin and Luis Atilano stand? Who will be the next to join the Nationals staff? And who is likely to be sent to Syracuse? so many questions!

  41. bdrube - Jun 9, 2010 at 4:54 PM

    Kyle:Martin and Atilano await the arrival/return of some combination of Olsen, Detwiler, Wang & Zimmermann. I just love the fact that we have so many viable pitchers now that the starters know the rule is produce or be gone.

  42. LoveDaNats - Jun 9, 2010 at 5:26 PM

    I would love for his next start at home to be 6/18 since I have tickets. But after checking and re-checking the rotation, it looks like he will start the 19th, That and the fact they moved the game to 4:10 and Fox is now broadcasting it. That's my best guess.

  43. Anonymous - Jun 9, 2010 at 5:59 PM

    Riggleman was on espn980 today and stated that Straburg will pitch every 5th day, regardless of off days. I saw the same thing with Fox, but according to Riggleman, unless there are rainouts he would pitch Friday the 18th vs CWS.

  44. Ron In Reston - Jun 9, 2010 at 7:13 PM

    I stayed at the stadium and watched the interviews before I went to the navy Yard station, so when I got there it was fairly empty. L'Enfant Plaza, on the other hand was seriously crowded, even an hour after the game ended. I have to commend Metro on how they handle the Green Line and Navy Yard station with extra trains and whatnot, but i still do not understand at all, why they do nothing for the feeder lines, spcifically the Orange Line. With more than 50% of season ticket holders coming from the VA burbs, why on earth are Orange Line trains 12 minutes (and more) apart following a game? It's idiocy….and don't get me started on the "Take Metro to the Game" (But we'll close a section of the Orange Line over the weekend to make it nearly impossible to do so) crap. Ok, I'm done ranting….gotta go get my tix for the 18th 🙂

  45. bumsfan4 - Jun 9, 2010 at 7:43 PM

    Anonymous said… Did they remove seats at some point? Actually, they did. In 2008 and 2009 there were two rows of seats right in front of the Red Loft that were called the Batter's Eye Box. _____The official capacity has been dropped from the original 41,888 to 41,546.

  46. Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me - Jun 9, 2010 at 9:33 PM

    My two cents:Metro did a helluva job, coming and going.Please, please, do not — EVER — mention John Patterson in the same breath with Jesus.

  47. Anonymous - Jun 9, 2010 at 9:40 PM

    Any word on the current situation of the rotation? Goessling is way ahead of Mark with this:http://masnsports.com/the_goessling_game/2010/06/the-nationals-rotation-to-the-all-star-break.html

  48. Anonymous - Jun 9, 2010 at 9:43 PM

    It makes sense that Stammen went down, but where do J.D. Martin and Luis Atilano stand? As you can see from Ben Goessling's article/blog-post, they are going to be here until the All-Star break. My guess is that management feels that its best to 1. rest Olsen's arm for now. 2. Have him for when someone else goes down (Lannan?).The wait until the all-star break to deal with Detwiler, Zimmermann, Wang and Marquis. Listed in order of where they are in their rehabilitation.

  49. Anonymous - Jun 9, 2010 at 10:16 PM

    The attendence was much higher than what was announced if you count all the babies and toddlers that sat on parents laps.I think the historic nature of the game caused parents to take out the youngsters. It wasn't just a few, I saw dozens.

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