By Christopher Mohr
June 10 (Santee) - Tuesday evening (June 8) was the night that many baseball fans eagerly waited for: the Major League debut of Washington Nationals' pitching ace Stephen Strasburg, an alum of West Hills High School and San Diego State University.
Fans got what they hoped for and more as Strasburg's performance lived up to the hype that preceded it. Nationals Ballpark in Washington D.C. was sold out with 40,315 in attendance to see the Nationals play the Pittsburgh Pirates and witness what may prove to be one of the team's historic moments.
A look at Strasburg's statistics shows a game of dominance and efficiency. Over seven complete innings, he struck out 14 batters, gave up no walks and threw only 94 pitches, 65 of them for strikes. His velocity reached 100 MPH, but a healthy dose of off-speed pitches kept Pirates hitters off balance for much of the game.
The only real blemish on Strasburg's game was in the fourth inning when he gave up a two-run homer to Delwyn Young. Neil Walker singled earlier in the inning and scored on Young's blast. These were the only two runs the Pirates scored as Washington prevailed with a 5-2 victory.
Rookie debuts are nothing new to baseball, but few of them draw the attention that Strasburg's did. Even more impressive was how Strasburg handled the pressure and performed like a veteran in what was practically a playoff atmosphere.
No one doubts that Strasburg has the physical abilities to be a dominant major league pitcher and only time will tell if he joins the ranks of hall-of-fame power pitchers like Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson or Don Drysdale.
But if Tuesday's performance is any indication of future results, Nationals fans have a lot to look forward to. Past history has not been kind to this franchise, so fans will take what positives they can get.
The Nationals started in 1969 as the Montreal Expos, the same time the San Diego Padres began as a major league team. Success has often eluded the Expos/Nationals, one of three teams in Major League Baseball to not appear in a World Series.
Many baseball experts felt that the team's best chance to win a World Series was in 1994, but as luck would have it, the season ended prematurely with the players going on strike, and no World Series was held that season. In subsequent years, the talent that the team had was gradually dismantled as players left for other teams and lucrative free agent contracts.
The team suffered through years of poor attendance in a community more supportive of the legendary Canadiens hockey team. It effectively became a ward of MLB after a couple of league franchises changed hands, resulting in the Expos being bought by the league.
The franchise soon became a team without a home as attendance continued to drop. In 2003 and 2004, the Expos played several 'home' games in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In September 2004, MLB announced that the Expos would move to Washington D.C. for the 2005 season. The team's nickname was changed to the Nationals soon afterward.
Given the team's history of futility, the arrival of Strasburg to the Nationals is much like the arrival of a rescue plane to Gilligan's Island. He is expected to do for the Nationals what Michael Jordan did for the Chicago Bulls about twenty years ago: put the team on the map and make them champions.
It's a lot to ask of a player who only has one MLB start on his resume, but the potential for greatness is defintely there. At the very least, Nationals fans should have start having better luck than what the Seven Castaways had.
Christopher Mohr is a freelance writer in the San Diego area and is a huge fan of the Padres, Chargers, Detroit Red Wings and Team Strong Heart.