06/09/10 3:00 AM ET
Gwynn: Strasburg blessed with 'it'
College coach attends Nats ace's remarkable debut
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
"The opener is always special because you always know what it means to the player and to his family," Boras said prior to Tuesday night's game, a 5-2 win by the Nats over the Pirates. "It's a great part of the pageantry of the game. It's the beginning of really an extraordinary time."
Was it ever.
On this night, Strasburg continued what's been viewed as an extraordinary time to be a Nats fan with an extraordinary start, one that saw him give up two runs on four hits while walking none and striking out a Nationals-record 14 batters, including his final seven.
Off the top of his head, former Cy Young Award winner John Smoltz -- now an MLB Network analyst -- could think of only two other pitching debuts that came close to matching the pomp and circumstance of Strasburg's: Dwight Gooden in 1984 and Hideo Nomo in '95.
"He's got an advantage most pitchers don't, and that's a 100-mph fastball, stuff that's electric," Smoltz said prior to the game. "But stuff doesn't win you baseball games, and he'll learn that. He'll know that -- he's a smart guy. He's very polished, has been through college and has a good head on his shoulders. But I think just the idea and the mind-set to want to pitch deep into games, to want to get out of trouble, do all the things you have to do as a pitcher, that's what's going to set him apart -- even more so than his stuff."
Strasburg's debut brought 40,315 fans to Nationals Park, giving the team its second sellout of the season.
It brought more than 200 credentialed media members from all over the country. It brought Hall of Famers such as Strasburg's coach at San Diego State University, Tony Gwynn, and former Nationals manager Frank Robinson. And it brought three MLB authenticators to patent any noteworthy item of Strasburg's first game.
"It was a tremendous experience," Strasburg said, "especially in front of a packed house like this."
Aside from owning a high-90s fastball and swooping curve, Strasburg has a knack for handling the attention he's received since being the No. 1 overall Draft pick in 2009 and signing a record $15.1 million contract.
That's a trait he displayed perfectly while pitching in front of the loudest environment Nationals Park has put forth in years.
"The key thing that he's able to do is, when he gets between the lines, focus on his approach and what he knows makes him successful," Boras said. "He's been very good about that."
With all of the buzz that surrounded Strasburg, many believed there was no way the right-hander could live up to the lofty expectations in his Major League debut. And when he did, many more were shocked.
Afterward, a confident Gwynn, who coached the hard-throwing righty from 2007-09, was laughing at those cynics.
"I am laughing," Gwynn said. "I'll say that because when you see somebody with that kind of stuff, with that kind of head on his shoulders, you know he's going to be successful. You know that. He was a sophomore in college and you just knew -- he's got it. And it is a hard thing to kind of point your finger at. But I think you saw that tonight."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.