January 22, 2019

Stephen in Syracuse

May 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Beginning with a low rumble on draft day 2009, the Stephen Strasburg hype built gradually in the city of Syracuse, spiking after each successful start for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators and peaking gloriously Friday night, when The Phenom took the mound at Alliance Bank Stadium for his first Triple-A start.

Pre-Game

Despite running off to a division-best 15-8 record in April, the Chiefs struggled at times to draw even 500 fans for weekend games early in the season. It was refreshing, then, to see cars idling all the way down Hiawatha Boulevard an hour before first pitch, and sausages grilling in the parking lot. A dreaded rainstorm showed no signs of life—holey gray clouds loosely covered the stadium, even allowing bursts of late-afternoon sun through at times.

Inside the stadium, fans young and less young massed along the third-base line with gloves, programs and Sharpies, waiting for Strasburg to appear for his warmups. A gaggle of cameramen slouched around outside the dugout in anticipation of the same. Popcorn and beer vendors circled like sharks, picking off marks on the outside of the crowd.

As the minutes passed, the third-base line group grew and children smacked their fists into their gloves impatiently. Finally, at 6:38, the photographers on the field snapped to attention and the fans perked up in anticipation of their first encounter. Strasburg climbed out of the dugout and plodded down the third-base line to the bullpen, head down. Apparently cowed, none of the autograph seekers cried out, and there was only a weak round of “whoo”s to serenade him.

While Strasburg played long-toss and snapped off his warmup pitches to catcher Carlos Maldonado, his teammates stole glances and pointed, giggling, to the gawking crowd. Fans stood on seats taking photos and children watched respectfully from their fathers’ shoulders. Just before 7:00, Strasburg exchanged a round of fist-bumps in the bullpen and plodded back to the dugout. He was met again with bashful silence from the crowd.

First Inning (16 pitches, 12 strikes)

The Gwinnett Braves’ first batter, Matt Young, stepped into the box at 7:09 and was greeted by a flurry of flashbulbs and a 96 mile-per-hour fastball. The second pitch sailed by at 97, and the third, which Young managed to tip, was 98. The fans guffawed and elbowed one another, howling for a strikeout. To their good-natured disappointment, Young grounded the fourth offering to second base.

The Braves’ second hitter, Gregor Blanco, showed bunt on the first offering, a ball, earning howls of derision from the still-standing crowd. After a swinging and called strike and a few quiet fouls, Blanco watched the seventh offering go by, thus becoming Strasburg’s first Triple-A strikeout victim. Brett Clevlen followed, swung through two two-finger fastballs, watched two off-speed pitches go by for balls, then swung thunderously through a 97 mile-per-hour heater for the Braves’ second strikeout and the third out of the inning.

Second Inning (6 pitches, 5 strikes)

An inning of Strasburg apparently convinced the G-Braves that working the count was not the solution, because they came out hacking in the second. Barbaro Canizares fouled off the first offering and tapped the second to third baseman Chase Lambin. Joe Thurston, the Brave with the most big-league experience, grounded Strasburg’s first offering right back to him. The pitcher bobbled briefly but recovered in plenty of time to record the out. Part-time second baseman J.C. Holt stepped in and, with Strasburg pouring fastballs, grounded the third pitch to second base.

In the home half of the second inning, second baseman Seth Bynum hit a one-out double to left-center field. After Maldonado flied out, Strasburg came to the plate for his first at-bat. As on the rubber, Strasburg worked quickly at the plate—he slapped the first pitch authoritatively into center field, scoring Bynum for the first run of the game.

Third Inning (6 pitches, 5 strikes)

Shortstop Luis Bolivar led off and slapped at the first pitch, sending a dull two-bouncer to shortstop. Catcher Wes Timmons followed and, after falling behind 0-1, saw a fastball, a change-up and a 79 mile-per-hour curve, over which he flailed ineffectively for the third strike. Pitcher Ryne Reynoso followed. Reynoso, 3-28 at the plate in his minor league career, hit the first pitch, sending a knuckling line drive to third baseman Lambin for the third out.

Fourth Inning (14 pitches, 9 strikes)

In the top of the fourth, the Braves came around for their second whacks. Young took the first pitch for a 96 mile-per-hour strike at the knees. After three more fast ones put the count at 2-2, Strasburg dropped in a curve ball for a swinging strikeout, his fourth.

Blanco, the G-Brave with the second-most big league experience (168 games, behind Thurston’s 183), got ahead of Strasburg for the first time in the game, working a 2-1 count. The fourth pitch resulted in a typical three-hopper, but unlike the others, this one eluded shortstop Eric Bruntlett and second baseman Bynum, slipping over second base and into center field for a single.

Apparently unfazed, Strasburg attacked Clevlen, a second-round pick in 2002, with four- and two-seamers. The batter fouled off the first two before Strasburg dropped in a curve for strike three. Canizares came to the plate, and Strasburg appeared to take notice of the baserunner for the first time. He tried three pick-off attempts, and when he got back to the batter at hand, he’d slowed his pace considerably and sent over two consecutive balls. The third pitch was hit to the shortstop, who handled it for the third out.

For the hometown Chiefs, Mike Morse led off the fourth inning with a double to center field and scored when Lambin followed with a two-bagger of his own. Lambin advanced to third on a Bynum groundout, and Maldonado walked, putting men on the corners with one out for Strasburg’s second plate appearance. He showed bunt all the way, and laid one down about 10 feet in front of the plate, toward the first-base side. The third and first basemen charged, the second basemen covered first and the shortstop covered second. This left Lambin, the runner at third, to extend nearly two-thirds of the way down the third-base line. The third baseman fielded the bunt and threw out Strasburg at first, allowing Lambin to trot home easily. Two plate appearances, two RBIs for The Phenom.

Fifth Inning (11 pitches, 6 strikes)

Thurston, the Braves’ elder statesman, worked Strasburg to a 3-0 count before falling back to 3-2. The sixth pitch, though, was wide of the mark, and Thurston scampered to first base, the second baserunner of the evening. Strasburg threw a first-pitch ball to Holt, too, but came back and got him to force Thurston out at second with a grounder to first base. Bolivar swung at the first pitch and squibbed to third base, allowing Holt to advance—the Braves’ first runner in scoring position—but Strasburg clamped down and got the next batter, Sammons, to chop to third base. Lambin scooped it up nicely and ended the inning. In the fifth, Strasburg was a tick down on his fastball—94 and 95, rather than 96 and 97.

Sixth Inning (12 pitches, 8 strikes)

Pinch-hitter Wes Timmons, in for pitcher Reynoso, saw three pitches from Strasburg. The first, a 95 mile-per-hour fastball. The second, a 79 mile-per-hour curve. The third, a changeup that he grounded to short. Leadoff man Matt Young hit a first-pitch two-hopper to second base. Blanco, who got the first hit, was up next, and Strasburg again fell behind his nemesis (?) with a 3-0 count. He came back, though, with fastballs at 95 and 96 to fill the count. His 65th and final pitch, an 81 mile-per-hour changeup, froze Blanco and ended the inning. The Chiefs fans, filling the park for the first time all season, gave Strasburg a standing ovation as he walked off the field.

The Rest of the Game

The Chiefs tacked on two runs in the seventh inning on a Pete Orr home run and a Morse single, then two more in the eighth on a groundout and a passed ball. The 3-5 hitters (Kevin Mench, Whitesell and Morse) went 7-13 with three runs, two RBIs and a walk. In relief, the Chiefs trotted out Jason Bergmann, Atahualpa Severino and Drew Storen, each of whom threw a scoreless inning. Storen, living in Strasburg’s shadow, pitched a dominant ninth inning. The Chiefs won, 7-0.

Summary

In six innings, Strasburg threw 65 pitches, 45 of them for strikes. He got the first pitch across to 13 of 20 batters faced (just two batters over the minimum). His final line: 1 hit, no runs, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts. The only ball to leave the infield was the seeing-eye ground-ball single by Blanco. His next start is Wednesday in Syracuse, versus Norfolk.

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