Stephen Strasburg's Debut: Mr. Relevant's First Game Breathes Life into Majors

Elliott Pohnl@@ElliottPohnl_BRFeatured ColumnistJune 9, 2010

WASHINGTON - JUNE 08:  Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the second inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Nationals Park on June 8, 2010 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Stephen Strasburg’s name won’t be added to the long list of can’t-miss prospects who have missed.  Following his historic performance in his Major League debut Tuesday, the sports world is abuzz over his 99-mph heat and devastating slurve.

Strasburg’s dazzling debut was arguably the best moment in the history of the Washington Nationals.  It was a polarizing moment in the 2010 MLB season, which lacks compelling story lines even in mid-June.  It justified the national media’s hype and made the Nats’ a franchise worth covering.

Run away with those superlatives, Stephen Strasburg is here to say.

The Nationals have endured dwindling attendance in the last two seasons and needed something good to happen.  The fortunes of the franchise began to turn when the Nats managed to sign Strasburg out of San Diego State.  A packed Nationals Park Tuesday night was symbolic of how far the Amtrak of Major League Baseball has come. 

The Nationals are being smart about Strasburg, planning to limit him to around 160 innings this season, meaning that he will only be able to make around 12-15 starts at the Major League level before being shut down.  That should be enough to tease the fans and boost ticket sales heading into next season.

The next step is to surround Strasburg, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, and slugger Adam Dunn with a few more pieces.  The Nationals are suddenly becoming an attractive destination for free agents.  Signing phenom Bryce Harper, the top overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft and another Scott Boras client, now becomes the team’s highest priority.

Major League Baseball and the national media is pulling for the Nationals to keep getting better.

Prior to Tuesday night, the biggest moment in the 2010 MLB season was undoubtedly a mistake.  Jim Joyce’s blown call prevented Detroit’s Armando Galarraga from registering one of the most unlikely perfect games in the history of baseball. 

Bud Selig’s legacy has been tarnished with mistakes, from looking the other way during steroid allegations to ending the 2002 All-Star game in a tie.  He opted not to overturn Joyce’s gaffe, opening the door for criticism.  Even with Galarraga on the bump for the first time since the infamous night, Strasburg’s dominated the headlines and overshadowed the perfect game that wasn’t.

Thanks to the national media, Strasburg’s debut created a new snapshot for the 2010 season.

Tampa Bay’s success is a source of enjoyment for baseball purists but a source of frustration for the media, which is hungry to focus on big-market teams first.  The post-steroid era has produced less scoring and more parity, enabling teams like the Reds and Athletics to hover around the top of the standings.  The media needed someone to generate excitement: someone like Stephen Strasburg.

Despite his incredible performance Tuesday, there are certainly a few cautionary tales to suggest that Strasburg could come back to earth. 

Kerry Wood was the last young phenom to throw a slurve.  He used the pitch heavily when he struck out 20 Astros as a rookie, but eventually stopped throwing it and has battled arm problems for much his career. 

The woeful Pirates are batting .236 as team this season and appeared to have given up by the fifth inning last night.

It clearly won’t always be that easy for Stephen Strasburg, but the sports world will be watching for years and years to come.

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