June 9, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Strasburg makes a historic debut

It's hard to remember the last time a rookie athlete got this much media attention in his debut appearance, but Stephen Strasburg erased any doubts about whether the "feeding frenzy" was warranted. Racking up 14 strikeouts without giving up a single walk is the kind of performance you expect from seasoned veterans heading to the Hall of Fame, not youngsters who are still "wet behind the ears." Only two pitchers had ever struck out more batters (15) in their debut game in all of major league history. It wasn't easy, however, and Strasburg was helped by good fielding. The very first batter, Andrew McCutcheon, hit a hard line drive that shortstop Ian Desmond managed to snag, fortunately. Routinely nearing 100 mph with his fast ball, Strasburg steadily improved his control as the innings progressed. His only mistake was giving up a home run to Delwyn Young in the fourth inning, but he quickly buckled down and did not allow any more Pirates batters to reach base! In fact, he struck out the last seven batters he faced. Manager Jim Riggleman wisely took him out after the seventh inning, when the pitch count was at 94; there's no sense in risking that golden arm just to break a historical record. The bullpen guys did their job, and the Nats held on to win, 5-2. See MLB.com.

What Strasburg accomplished on the pitcher's mound was impressive enough, but the cool and calm manner in which he carried out his duties was truly awesome. (It's too bad that word gets overused these days, because Strasburg truly is "awesome.") Facing up to the sky-high expectations in front of 40,315 fans and then delivering on the promise without even flinching is practically superhuman. surpasses Bottom line: the hype was true, and Strasburg is for real. Anything is possible in the future, but if Strasburg stays healthy, God willing, the Nationals will become one of the real powerhouse teams in the National League.

With all the dramatic subplots, the game almost had a storybook nature to it. Ryan Zimmerman homered in the first inning, creating good vibes echoing his dramatic walkoff home run when Nationals Park was inaugurated two years and two months ago. Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham did likewise in the sixth inning, retaking the lead for good. I don't know when the last time the team's three big sluggers all hit the long ball in the same game. Zimmerman and Dunn each had three hits, and Dunn's batting average is currently .280, and he's on his way to having his best year at the plate. Pudge Rodriguez played a big role in his first game in over two weeks, keeping Strasburg steady while playing as catcher, and getting two hits, including a double in the second inning. Another good sign was that Nats' closer Matt Capps got three straight outs in the ninth inning. He has been very unreliable lately, and that will hopefully restore his confidence.

While being interviewed at the dugout after the game, Strasburg was "awarded" with a cream pie in the face, plus two extra ones just for good measure. Then he was crowned with the honorary silver plastic Elvis costume hairdo that has become a tradition for the Nationals this year. For a budding superstar like him, trying to become just "one of the boys" will take some doing.

Strasburg's astounding debut came on the day before the anniversary of his being drafted by the Nationals; see June 10, 2009. (Rookie relief pitcher Drew Storen was also drafted by the Nats on the same day; he and Strasburg played as teammates on the Syracuse Chiefs before being called up.) The Nationals had a special welcoming ceremony for Strasburg last August 21, which at the time seemed a bit overdone, but now I understand. The Lerner family evidently decided to get all the promotional value out of Strasburg that they could, consciously contributing to the media feeding frenzy. They're just lucky that Strasburg has been able to handle the added stress. I hereby retract my past doubts about whether Strasburg was really worth the $15.7 million he will be earning over the next four years.

In tonight's game against the Pirates, there were defensive miscues on both sides, and starting pitcher John Lannan gave up five runs, not a very good performance. Fortunately, Adam Dunn hit a home run for the second night in a row, and Ryan Zimmerman drove in a run in the seventh inning, which turned out to be the winning margin. Final score: 7-5; it's the first time the Nationals have won two consecutive games (or a series) in more than two weeks.

After all the grim hardships of the last two years, it's extremely gratifying to see Nationals Park jam-packed full of happy, excited fans. Maybe now that Strasburg is with the team, the Nats really can recreate the magical atmosphere of June 2005, when I wrote:

"It just doesn't get any better than this." smile

Mike's stadium news

Mike Zurawski is on top of the confusing stadium situation in California -- both north and south. In San Francisco, city officials are reviewing a proposal to develop the land adjacent to AT&T Park, possibly including a new arena for the Golden State Warriors, who currently reside in Sacramento. (Or maybe Rio Linda.) Even if the Mission Rock District project is approved, construction won't start any time soon. See sfgate.com.

And in San Diego, there is more talk about a new stadium for the Chargers, just a few blocks from PETCO Park downtown. See football-news-update.com. You can see an artist's depiction at ellingtoncms.com, but unless economic conditions improve, it's not likely to happen soon. I still think rebuilding the lower deck at QualComm Stadium is the way to go; stay tuned for yet another diagram update...

But if the Chargers are thinking about moving back to their ancestral home in L.A., there are plenty of financial hurdles that remain. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has expressed "concerns" about funding for the proposed stadium in the City of Industry; see curbed.com. Thanks again to Mike for those links.

COMMENT by: John Geoffrion, of Washington, DC on Jun 10, 2010 17:21 PM
Last time I checked, the Golden State Warriors played in Oakland, next door to Raiders and A's, and the Kings were the team in Sacramento. :-)

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Jun 11, 2010 01:51 AM
Obviously, you checked more recently than I did, which was not at all. You'd think I would have learned not to comment on non-baseball sports after my series of factual gaffes regarding hockey last year. Thanks for setting me straight.