WASHINGTON - "Strasmas" exceeded its remarkable hype last night, and this long-sleepy baseball town leaped out of bed to marvel at its gift.
Yes, Stephen Strasburg looked that good at Nationals Park. Wow. The 21-year-old prodigy registered a spectacular major-league debut, striking out 14 Pirates in seven innings to pick up a 5-2 victory.
A sellout crowd of 40,315 exploded with joy at the exploits of their savior, the first overall selection in the 2009 amateur draft. The Nationals have been an underachieving, unwatched team since the Expos moved here and became them in 2005. But for this night, baseball ruled the nation's capital, and it will surely keep the town's interest for as long as Strasburg looks like this.
"I just wanted to go out and soak up everything,'' he said. "It only happens once and I've been waiting for this my whole life. It's definitely icing on the cake to go out there and pitch well, and get a win."
He showed off his three remarkable weapons - a fastball (seven strike threes) that consistently hit the high 90s on the Pitch/FX radar gun (Andy LaRoche stroked the one 100-mph pitch, in the second, for a single, the first hit against Strasburg); a changeup (three strikeouts) that hovered around 90 mph and a killer curve (four). He struck out each of Pittsburgh's nine starters at least once, and he fanned his last seven batters.
What else? His 14 strikeouts set a Nationals record, and fell one short of the record for a big-league debut. He walked no one.
The Nats' Ivan Rodriguez, in his 20th big-league season, said: "I've caught a lot of guys, but this kid is unbelievable."
He threw 94 pitches, and an impressive 65 were strikes. But then again, Strasburg impressed with all of his actions last night, except when he didn't run out a grounder to shortstop in his first big-league at-bat.
The town has been covered in Strasburg mania since the Nationals announced last week that his debut would come on this night. In his 11 minor-league starts, totaling 551/3 innings, he struck out 65 and walked 13, compiling a 1.43 ERA. Hence the pre-debut term, "Strasmas."
He received a standing ovation when he walked in from the bullpen after warming up, and when he unleashed his first major-league pitch at 7:06, an inside fastball to Andrew McCutchen, the crowd booed in disapproval of home-plate umpire Tom Hallion's ball call.
Ryan Zimmerman, the former face of the Nationals franchise, homered in the first inning, giving Strasburg a 1-0 lead. In the fourth, Strasburg displayed his only signs of imperfection, as Neil Walker and Milledge led off with singles and, following a 6-4-3 double play, Delwyn Young ripped a two-run homer to right-center.
When Adam Dunn crushed a two-run homer in the sixth, however, and Josh Willingham followed with a solo blast, Strasburg's teammates ensured that the night would carry no negativity for Washington fans. They instead roared at every strikeout, and drew a curtain call out of Strasburg after his departure.
Start No. 2 is Sunday at Cleveland. A baseball nation, and especially its capital, waits eagerly.
"It's nice to be up here and get to know a lot of the guys up here, build some chemistry up with them,'' Strasburg said, "help this team and be a contributor.''
With that, the only understatement about Strasburg came from Strasburg himself.