A nosebleed-level account of Stephen Strasburg's first start

BLS stat doctor Alex Remington was in the house on Tuesday night. This is his account.

Stephen Strasburg's(notes) debut, the most-anticipated regular-season game in recent memory, was the most crowded I've seen Nationals Park since it opened in 2008.

And, somehow, despite the rule that a player's jersey can't be sold until he's played a single major league game — which prevented Jason Heyward(notes) jerseys from being sold until the fifth inning on Opening Day — a red crowd of people appeared at the stadium, many of them wearing Stephen Strasburg shirts, hats, and what looked like a whole lot of jerseys.

I sat in the upper deck on the third-base side with my friend Alyssa Rosenberg, who wrote the game up for The Washingtonian, and the electricity was palpable, even from our nosebleed seats.

The Nationals obliged the buzzing crowd with three blasts of fireworks: once during the saxophoned national anthem (to punctuate "rockets' red glare"), once when the team was announced and took the field; and once at the end of the game. The crowd didn't keep up that level of energy throughout the nine innings, but when the game started, it reacted wildly to Strasburg's every move.

When Strasburg started Andrew McCutchen(notes) with two straight balls — his first two pitches in the major leagues — the crowd booed each call. It did the same when he ran the same count to Neil Walker(notes). Neither managed to hit it out of the infield, though, and Strasburg had two quick outs despite having thrown more balls than strikes. No. 3 hitter Lastings Milledge(notes), the former National, rated the loudest booes of the night. The first two pitches to Milledge were Strasburg's first two called strikes of the night, and the crowd applauded each, and rose to its feet, still clapping, through the swinging strike three. It was the first of Strasburg's fourteen strikeouts, and each brought the crowd to life.

When Andy LaRoche(notes) hit a clean single to break up the no-hitter after five outs, the crowd booed. After that, however, they no longer booed Strasburg's called balls, instead sighing "ohh" and "aww" — they reserved their remaining boobirds for Milledge, or any time the Pirates called time or threw to first rather than to home.

It's not so much that Strasburg's excellence became routine, exactly, but eventually the crowd became relatively complacent between the strikeouts, which they still raucously cheered. Then, Delwyn Young's(notes) two-run homer in the fourth silenced them completely. They came back to their senses in the sixth inning, when Strasburg recorded his 10th strikeout, and hardly had time to stop their applause for the next two half-innings as he struck out the side in the sixth and seventh.

Pittsburgh junkballer Jeff Karstens(notes) had an impossible assignment, really, trying to match zeroes with a pitcher whose changeup was faster than Karstens' fastball. If nothing else, he matched Strasburg's prowess throwing strikes: Karstens had 52 strikes in 72 pitches, an even better ratio than Strasburg's 65-94, and neither starter yielded a walk. Through five innings, the Pirates were improbably on top 2-1, and it was a true pitchers' duel.

But then Karstens hung three pitches to the middle of the Nats' order, giving up a double, a homer, and another homer, and that was pretty much that.

Strasburg was taken out of the game after the seventh, and the game paused for a standing ovation as the scoreboard noted that Strasburg had broken the team's rookie strikeout record. Many people went home after that, but a sizable crowd remained to see Matt Capps(notes) notch his major-league leading 19th save. They applauded happily, though not as exuberantly as before, when the victory was sealed: they knew that the real victory had already occurred innings ago. Stephen Strasburg is a major leaguer, and he's as good as the hype. The best pitcher in the major leagues just might be a Washington National.

And that was definitely something worth cheering on Tuesday night.

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