WASHINGTON - JUNE 08: Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals talks with Ivan Rodriguez #7 after leaving the game in the seventh inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Nationals Park on June 8, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
For three innings Tuesday night, Stephen Strasburg's No. 37 jersey could have had "JOHNSON" spelled out on the back.
No pitcher has captivated Washington like Steven Strasburg since Walter Johnson. In the eyes of Nats fans hoping for a savior, the rookie looked like a modern day Johnson, mowing down Pirates left and right, and sawing off a bat in the process.
His start electrified the sellout crowd at Nationals Park. Fans oohed and aahed with each pitch -- keeping one eye on the batters flailing helplessly at his repertoire and another at the radar gun reading posted on the Nats Park scoreboard.
"Big Train," indeed.
But after striking out six of the first 10 batters he faced, Strasburg finally proved that he was human.
He ran into some trouble in the fourth as rookie Neil Walker singled to right center. Lastings Milledge, who will go down in history as Strasburg's first strikeout victim in the top of the first, followed with a single to right.
Strasburg looked like he worked his way out of the jam by getting Garrett Jones to ground into a double play (and breaking his bat in the process). But the next batter, Delwyn Young, suddenly became the Grinch Who Stole Strasmus by knocking a Strasburg offering into the first row of the right-field seats to give the Pirates a 2-1 lead.
The homer deflated the home crowd and made Young enemy No. 2 among Pittsburgh athletes in D.C., trailing only Sidney Crosby.
But, showing great poise, Strasburg recovered and retired the next 10 batters he faced.
Note to the National League: Don't make Strassy mad. You're only hurting yourself in the long run.
While Strasburg recorded 11 Ks through six innings (most by a Nats starter all year), he was still on the hook for the loss as the Nats' offense struggled against Pittsburgh starter Jeff Karstens.
But the Nats' hitters came alive in the bottom of the sixth as Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham hit back-to-back jacks to give Strasburg the runs he needed for a possible win.
Strasburg, who had been on a strict pitch/inning count in the minors, returned in the top of the seventh for one more inning to appease the home crowd.
Did he have anything left in the tank? You betcha.
He struck out the side in the seventh with ease, and ended his big league debut by finishing off LaRoche for the final out of the inning with some 95 mph high cheese, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps were able to preserve Strasburg's first Major League victory, which will go down in history as a 5-2 win.
“You know, the only thing I really remember is the first pitch, and it was a ball inside," Strasburg said after the game. "Everything else is just such a blur."
The final stat line for The Rook: 7 IP, 4 H 2 ER, 0 BB, 14 K.
After the seventh inning came a goodwill gesture: He came out to the top of the dugout steps and tipped his hat to the sellout crowd.
"This only happens once and I have been waiting for it my entire life," Strasburg told a TV interviewer after the game, just before his teammates pelted him with shaving cream pies and made him wear the team's famous silver wig for the rest of the interview.
For Nats fans who have watched a floundering franchise for way too long, it was a box score, gesture and celebration to make them weep.
And for once they are tears of joy.