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Today? Why, Today is Strasmus Day!

June 9, 2010

I very rarely DVR early June baseball games, but as has been repeated in every baseball circle, you’ll remember where you were when. Even in this age of overhype and constant sports chatter to feed the continual frenzy of short attention spans, Stephen Strasburg’s debut matched – and dear god, then some – the legend.

If we are indeed going to refer to The Chosen One’s debut day as Strasmus, which seems entirely appropriate, let’s also refer to him as Jesus H. Strasburg (or JHS, in shorthand, reserved for informal situations, like when mentioning him at a barbecue, or telling your child how he should live his life).

Cripes, there I was at 1am watching the start on DVR, forcing my poor wife to watch knee-buckling curves and two-seamers lighting up (assumedly generous) radar guns. JHS’s poise has been duly noted, and he seems to be taking every new step towards preposterous fame in stride. But with his coming heralded by his many apostles clearing the way with firebrand speeches and exhortations to throw yourself at his altar, how did JHS not give up a single walk during that game?

In the entire seven innings, only one pitch badly missed, and that was an up-and-in fastball on Garrett Jones in the seventh. Which reminded me of two baseball stories. First, that old saw about then-Cardinals shortstop Leo Durocher throwing his bat down after taking two strikes from 17-year-old farmboy Bob Feller in an exhibition game. And second, John Kruk’s reaction to Randy Johnson in the 1993 All-Star Game.

Among other late-night things I yelped to my cat and wife:

*That first knee-buckling curve he threw Lastings Milledge – who reacted like your standard little leaguer seeing his first legitimate curveball – was crazy. A hook that tricks a batter like that has to be the emasculating baseball equivalent of slam dunking in a forward’s face. And then Strasburg neutered Andy LaRoche the same way. And then he got Milledge again with the curve in the sixth inning.

*I have to say, there was something a little heartwarming about having Pudge v2.0 behind the plate for JHS’s debut. It would be a little like if the Expos had brought Johnny Bench out of retirement for a one-game contract to catch the Big Unit in his debut.

Uh, speaking of which: Randy Johnson’s first game (also against the Pirates) in 1988 was nothing special – he gave up a pair of homers to Glenn Wilson, yes that Glenn Wilson – and K’d five through five innings, needing 93 pitches to get through five. But check out his second game a couple of days later. And yes, that’s 130 pitches he threw in his second major league game ever.

*You can hardly blame homeplate ump Tim Hallion for getting into the theatricality of it all making like Leslie Nielsen with his punchout of catcher Jason Jaramillo in the third inning.

*That really was a little bit of showmanship against Jeff Karstens. Come on now, JHS. No reason to throw breaking stuff to that poor, weird-looking footnote. And he did it in both of Karsten’s at-bats!

*The Bucs’ announcers surely exulted in poking holes in JHS’s aura when Delwyn Young somehow made contact with a blechy swing and lifted that homer to right field. But if JHS proved he was human last night, it wasn’t during that at-bat. It was during his “runs” to first base on his groundouts. Granted, everyone in the Nats dugout told JHS not to go too hard on the basepaths, but watching him go up the line brought back memories of, say, Patrick Ewing’s final seasons in the Garden, or maybe Greg Oden lumbering to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

*The whole Strasburg, Virginia tale – whether or not the town will rename itself if JHS comes to accept an award – comes to an understandable conclusion. For now.

*Let’s remember that JHS was indeed playing one of the worst offensive teams in the major leagues. Andrew McCutchen’s having a good year, and Neil Walker’s off to a good start, but beating up on Ronny Cedeno (OPS+ of 71) and Jaramillo (40) is just cruel after a while.

For further reading of JHS’s first steps towards enshrinement, check out:

Baseball Prospectus’s article about what he threw, and how.

Joe Posnanski’s live blog of his outing.

Here’s the Washington Post article about him (free subscription required). And here’s the front page from today’s Washington Post. And yes, this is on a day where there were some relatively important primaries across the nation.


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