Two outs into Stephen Strasburg’s would-be impressive major league debut, the past stepped into the batter’s box to meet the future. Lastings Milledge strolled to the plate greeted by a chorus of boos from the sold-out crowd of 40,315. After two called strikes, Milledge swung at strike three and the crowd erupted.
Milledge was the first of Strasburg’s nine strikeout victims on the night. In fact, every hitter that faced Strasburg struck out at least once and five of them struck out twice. All told, Strasburg collected 14 strikeouts in the outing, just one shy of the record for a rookie making his debut.
“I tip my cap to the kid. The kid had great location, spotted the ball well,” said Milledge. “He was so good with commanding his off-speed stuff and putting away righties with his changeup. The game plan was to get something to hit and be aggressive with his fastball in the zone. He didn’t give us that.”
Delwyn Young was the only Pirate able to do any real damage, though catcher Pudge Rodriguez took responsibility for calling the wrong pitch. Young drilled the changeup to right field in the fourth inning to give the Pirates a 2-1 lead. But after that, the bats fell silent and the young phenom cruised to his first win.
“I think the results speak for themselves,” said Pirates manager John Russell.
“I can’t say anything other than he’s the type of pitcher who’s going to have some dominant games. He’s got the stuff to do it. With the explosive fastball, the off-speed pitches to go with it, he’s going to have a lot of success.”
Strasburg went on to cruise through the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, at one point striking out seven hitters in a row and tying a franchise record for consecutive strikeouts.
“You gotta give him credit. He does have phenomenal skills in order to get to where he’s at so fast,” said Young, who noted that Strasburg reminded him a little bit of Giants closer Brian Wilson. Wilson can attack hitters with a 96 MPH fastball, but only in the late innings.
With Strasburg, “you feel like you’re facing a closer...he has a lot of life in his arm,” Young continued.
As difficult as it was to catch up to the electric fastball, the Pirates were thoroughly impressed with Strasburg’s ability to throw his breaking pitches for strikes.
“There’s more to it than the fastball. It was just the way he commanded his curveball. That was really impressive to me,” Milledge continued. “There’s a lot of good things to be excited about this kid.”
That’s a pretty special endorsement coming from a former National, one who seems a few years older and a few years wiser with his new team.
“It’s no hard feelings or anything,” he said. “The biggest thing is that the fans were very electric for the kid. They aren’t supposed to like me. I’m on the other team. The fans are great for the kid. For him, there’s not a better night.”