Walkoff Walk reader and beltway resident Matt DeTura finagled a ducat for last night's Stephen Strasburg debut. I asked him to reflect on his experience and he agreed. Yes, running a blog is easy and fun.
For the amount of hype, the crowd seemed strangely subdued. There was excitement, but early on, no electricity in the stands; more of a nervous energy than a celebratory atmosphere. Chalk it up to fair-weather DC - the Caps disappointed, the Wiz went all FINGA GUNZ, United is boring and the Skins fanbase has been abused so many times that their co-workers are starting to wonder if they should take it upon themselves to call the cops the next time they show up to the office with a black eye. Cynicism is in the water here. Cynicism and fluoride.
Still, if it was a dumb crowd, it was a sellout crowd clad mostly in Stras-37's - I think Mayor Fenty may have been exchanging them for votes - and they were THERE, at the park, for once. So that was nice, especially since the last time Nats Park sold out everybody was wearing red t-shirts too, only they all said "UTLEY" on the back. And that really sucked, because the beer lines take for-ev-er when you're stuck behind a five year old getting up on a stepstool to pay for his Miller Lites.
Of course, Strasburg was ungodly fucking filthy. He needs a new swear word to describe how good he looked. He looked ballstoasterfuckingly good.
The kid is a machine - works quick, no fistpumps, no demonstrations - but no fear, either, even when he had trouble finding the strike zone for the first two batters. (Hey, people, I know it's the first Nats game of the season for half of you but let's not boo the umps when the kid on the mound may just think it's directed at him in his MLB debut, kay?) When he settled down, he was firing 97-99 without blinking, touched 100 once, and broke ankles and spirits with offspeed shit that simply shouldn't be allowed. He got in trouble in the fourth and all he did the next three innings was settle in and strike out 8 of the next 9 batters. Simply put, it was the best pitching performance I've ever seen at any ballpark and this was his FIRST TIME OUT. I was giddy when I had to extend the K box on my scorecard to accommodate his tickmarks.
And the fans, bless their souls, got into it - the place was fired up from innings 5-6 and they were chanting his name in the 7th. While "STRAS-BURG" was plainly audible on syllables three and four, one and two were up for grabs between the folks yelling "STEPH-EN" and the ones blaspheming "JES-US." Of course, it was a night when - for the first time since a crazy July run in 2005 - the Nats looked like they're going to be contenders. Someday. Maybe. If that's not worth a few extra Hail Marys, I don't know what is.
Also in attendance last night, reader Jerkwheat, who left his Detroit Tigers cap at home:
What MDT said about the crowd early was true. A lot of "oh shit, is this gonna happen?" looks, but everyone was clearly ready to burst out. Once the StrasJesus got his first K, it was on. After about the 8th K, my whole section was high fiving strangers left and right. I've seen just about every big-time pitcher in person over the last 20 odd years. I've seen a no-hitter in the minors and one hitters in MLB. I've seen 10-15 strikeouts before. But, I've never really seen stuff as purely filthy as I saw from Strasburg. That curve. It's going to kill people. It's Mariano's cutter. It's Smoltz's slider. To have a 20 mph gap on pitches that move like they do between his heat and his breaking stuff? Delwyn Young has no fucking clue how he hit a homer tonight.
Not to sound all Mitch Albom-y and what not, but the real testament to the power of Strasburg for me was on the ride back out to Fairfax. Lots of little kids in #37 shirseys. An amount of youngsters interested in the Nats that I've never seen and I've been going to Nats games since 2005. He's what the franchise needs to get the kids excited. Everyone loves the strikeout pitcher. This is a big opportunity to create an actual homegrown fanbase.