Mere numbers could speak to how extraordinary Stephen Strasburg was Tuesday night, numbers like 14 strikeouts and zero walks. Or 101, the top radar-gun reading on the right-hander's fastball. Or you could take the words of Orel Hershiser or John Smoltz or Curt Schilling, who all, in one way or another, said they have never seen anything like him.
But you also knew, early on, just how great Strasburg's stuff was by reading the body language of those around home plate. Time after time, the knees of Pirates' hitters buckled when Strasburg threw curveballs, and time after time, Pirates hitters were caught flailing at the air with their bats, looking like cowboys trying to lasso a mosquito with a rope; they had no chance.
And Tom Hallion, the plate umpire, appeared to be overwhelmed at the outset, as well.
During Strasburg's time in the minor leagues, evaluators noted that the young umpires had a terrible time calling balls and strikes when Strasburg threw his curveball, because of its quality. It's the kind of pitch that is so good that umpires have never seen anything quite like it.
Andrew McCutchen led off the game and Strasburg threw him three consecutive fastballs, at 97, 97 and 98 mph, and you would have had to forgive Hallion if he'd assumed he was going to see a lot of fastballs for the rest of the inning. Guys who throw that hard will usually keep throwing fastballs.
But after No. 2 hitter Neil Walker settled in for his first at-bat, Strasburg spun a curveball that bit hard and big and bent right through the heart of the strike zone. Hallion didn't move; he seemed to freeze at his first look at the Strasburg curve.
He adjusted thereafter, reading Strasburg's curve more accurately (and, in a couple of cases, perhaps calling strikes on pitches outside the zone), and, like the crowd, Hallion seemed to get into the rhythm of the performance, demonstratively calling strikes. As Smoltz wryly noted on the broadcast, it's very rare that you will see the back of an umpire from the center-field camera as he calls a third strike, but such is Hallion's emphatic third-strike call, which has him almost twirling around.
Another time when we saw a glimpse of Strasburg's greatness was on the home run he allowed. He made a mistake with the 91 mph changeup, leaving it over the middle of the plate, and Delwyn Young took advantage of it. But Strasburg might be the only pitcher on the planet who would have given up a home run on that particular pitch, given the nature of Young's swing; Young simply dropped the head of the bat on the ball and Strasburg's velocity provided the power. If anybody else had thrown a changeup in that spot, Young might have hit a double, or maybe his drive would have resulted in a fly ball. But because Strasburg throws his changeup so hard -- there's probably nobody else in the majors who throws a 91 mph changeup -- Young was able to drive the ball out. Aaron Boone talked about this on "Baseball Tonight."
On Tuesday afternoon, I called Jeff Idelson of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and asked him if the Hall had any plans to ask for a piece of memorabilia from Strasburg's debut. He said no, because from the perspective of a museum, they weren't going collect items merely because of media anticipation.
Well, after the game, the Hall of Fame called the Nationals and made a request for a memento.
(By the way, when they put in a request, it's open-ended -- they don't ask for a glove, or a ball, or a jersey; only for whatever the Nationals and Strasburg are gracious enough to provide.).
The Nationals are not the only team that will feel the Strasburg Effect.
I contacted the Indians after last night's game and asked about ticket sales for Strasburg's next scheduled start, on Sunday in Cleveland.
Their response: Right now, Strasburg's Sunday start is the best-selling game of those remaining on their schedule for the rest of the season. And that was at about 10 last night; you can bet the phones will be ringing off the hook at the Indians' ticket office between now and Sunday.
In March 2009, a longtime scout talked about how Strasburg was the best pitching prospect he had ever seen. In fact, he believed Strasburg to be better than A.J. Burnett that day, as a San Diego State junior.
I'm calling that scout today and telling him he underestimated Strasburg, who needed all of one outing in the big leagues to do something nobody else has ever done.
A whole bunch of Angels watched and were very impressed, as Mike DiGiovanna writes.
The Indians are now the beneficiaries from the Strasburg Effect. From midnight to 11 a.m., the Indians sold 500 tickets for Sunday's game. From 11-11:45 a.m. Eastern, they sold another 500. And the momentum was gathering. As of noon Eastern, they'd sold a total of 4,000 tickets since the rumors first started that Strasburg would be starting on Sunday.
Some Strasburg numbers, from the folks at ESPN Stats & Information: Batters went 0-16 on two-strike counts, with 14 strikeouts, a GIDP and a groundout.
Strasburg actually got stronger as the game went on. His three highest strike percentages came in his final three innings, along with his highest miss percentages in his final two. He went to a three-ball count three times in his first four innings but did not go to any in his last three. He struck out the final seven batters he faced.
Total pitches: 94
Batters faced: 24
First-pitch strikes: 16
Strike pct: 69.2
First-pitch strike pct: 66.7
Swing pct: 43.6
Miss pct: 43.9
How Strasburg's start compared to other starts this year (Mike Leake's debut, Roy Halladay's perfect game, Ubaldo Jimenez's no-hitter).
Around the league
Meanwhile, 40 miles to the Northeast ...
By the time Strasburg racked up his 14th strikeout, the Orioles -- who have become the Washington Generals of the AL East -- had allowed a double-digit run total to their opponent again. The Orioles are going to interview Bobby Valentine and others for their managerial opening, at a critical time for their franchise; Dan Connolly writes that a meeting could take place in the days ahead. In recent days, rival talent evaluators have remarked how the team's core young players have regressed -- beaten down, they believe, by the constant losing. Some observations on individual players:
Matt Wieters: "He can't hit a good fastball right now. He's got a long swing, and he's having a terrible time with fastballs -- he's got to make the adjustment and shorten his swing. He needs a breaking ball or a mediocre fastball in order to get his hits. He's got power, but it's not game power. He probably could use more at-bats [in the minors] to help him change his swing. If I were managing him, I'd pick out matchups for him, and not start him against guys with good fastballs."
Chris Tillman: "He shouldn't be in the big leagues yet. He's got a straight fastball, and the command of his secondary stuff is not there yet. If you throw a straight fastball, you have to have a great curveball or fastball to make it work. He really should go back to the minors to develop some movement on his fastball."
Nick Markakis: "He looks like a player who's been beaten down by a terrible situation."
Adam Jones (who is on pace for almost 140 strikeouts): "He makes no adjustments to breaking balls. He can hit fastballs up in the zone, and mistakes, but if you throw him a good breaking ball low and away, he will swing at it every time."
• Mike Stanton had a three-hit debut, writes Joe Capozzi, on a night when the Marlins struggled. Dave Hyde wonders if Stanton is the next Miguel Cabrera. I'd say no. Different kinds of hitters. Stanton will hit for more power than Cabrera, and Cabrera is the better pure hitter, who hits for a higher average and strikes out less.
• The time has come for the coexistence of Kenny Williams and Ozzie Guillen to end, writes Joe Cowley. This story is related to the draft of one Guillen son and the angry tweet of another.
• Wrote here yesterday about the players' unhappiness with Don Wakamatsu, and a deep well of discontent related to Ken Griffey Jr.
Steve Kelley writes that firing Wakamatsu would be a bad idea. I've heard great things about Wakamatsu, but here's the thing: If the players are never going to alter their view of him, this situation becomes very complicated. Geoff Baker has more here.
Meanwhile, the Mariners lost again.
1. The Twins took a bunch of pitchers.
2. The Mariners took a bunch of pitchers.
3. The Giants drafted Brett Bochy.
4. A shortstop intends to sign with the Braves.
5. The Padres took an infielder in the second round, writes Chris Jenkins.
6. The Tigers drafted a Leyland.
7. The Rays are pleased with their draft haul.
8. The Indians took a local kid.
Dings and dents
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Mark Attanasio is not ready to be a seller.
5. The Pirates are calling up Jose Tabata.
6. The D-backs need an infusion of credibility, writes Dan Bickley.
3. The Brewers got to frolic, writes Anthony Witrado.
4. The Jays had a really bad night.
6. Oakland went off on the Angels, as Susan Slusser writes.
11. The Padres fell out of first place.
12. Ike Davis got a pie in the face. From Mark Bowers, why Mike Pelfrey won: Thirteen batters went to two-count strikes, and 100 percent were converted into outs compared to the MLB average of 72. He used his fastball as a put-away pitch effectively all night. Twenty of 29 pitches (69 percent) thrown on two-strike counts were fastballs, and 12 of those 20 (60 percent) fastballs were swung on. Batters chased eight of 20 (40 percent) off-speed pitches thrown outside the zone compared to the MLB average of 31 percent.
17. Zack Greinke had another tough day.
18. The Rockies keep losing games to the Astros.
The Patience Index
The Impatience Index
And today will be better than yesterday.