(Photo by C. Nichols/Nats News Network)

There are times where you just have to sit back and let yourself be awed.

Tonight was one of those times.

Even the most hardened baseball men waxed poetic about what they witnessed at the ballpark on South Capitol Street.

It was the most remarkable of debuts, as Stephen Strasburg struck out 14 in seven innings, leading the Washington Nationals to a 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.  All this, on a day Nats fans will forever more call "Strasmas", before 40,315, a true Washington baseball sellout.

After the game, Nats manager Jim Riggleman couldn't digest what he witnesed.  "I really can't put it into words any better than what you just saw there.  Very exciting, with everything that was on him.  Coming in here for the last several days...for him to respond here was, really, just a great night for baseball."

In his very first major league start, Strasburg set the franchise record for strikeouts in a game.  He tied the team record for consecutive strikeouts in a game.  He retired eight of the last nine batters on strikeouts, striking out the sides in the sixth and seventh innings.

You would be hard-pressed to have scripted a better outcome.

(Photo by C. Nichols/Nats News Network)
Sure, you might have left out the two-run home run by Delwyn Young that briefly gave the Pirates the lead in the fourth inning.  But if you were to do that, it would remove the one teaching tool in the evening's progression.

See, Young hit his home run on a 90 MPH change-up.  You read that correctly: 90 MPH change-up.

After the game, catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez called the pitch his mistake.  "There was one change-up--I shouldn't call it.  I should have called for the fastball."

Young had been behind Strasburg's fastball so much, that when Strasburg got a little too much of the plate with the change-up, Young ran into it like he was geared up for the fastball--essentially "speeding up" Young's bat. 

The ball fell into the first row of the stands above the out-of-town scoreboard in right center field.

Both Riggleman and Rodriguez talked about the game plan for Strasburg in this game.  They wanted to call a few more breaking balls earlier in counts early in the game, and then utilize his two- and four-seam fastball the second and third times through the order.

The plan could not have gone any better.

(Photo by C. Nichols/Nats News Network)
In the first inning, Strasburg got the Pirates 1-2-3.  Andrew McCutcheon lined out to short and Neil Walker grounded to first, fulfilling Riggleman's pre-game prophecy that Strasburg would generate lots of ground outs with his sinking two-seam fastball.

But the third Pirates batter, Lastings Milledge, started the parade of Ks.  He took a called 99 MPH strike on the outside corner.  He was bent backwards on a silly 82 MPH true curveball, and then bent forward waving at an 83 MPH slurve that just kept breaking away from the right-handed hitter.

And on it would go.  After three innings, Strasburg had faced one over the minimum, striking out six.

Walker started the fourth with a clean single to right field on an 81 MPH slurve.  Milledge exacted some revenge with an opposite field flare on a 97 MPH outside fastball. 

Strasburg then used a 96 MPH sinker to induce a 6-4-3 double play from clean-up hitter Garrett Jones, before he made his only real "mistake" of the game--the change-up that got just a little too much of the plate that Young knocked out for the two-run homer.

That was the last base runner the Pirates got.

The fifth, sixth, and seventh innings were a blur, with eight of the next nine Pirate batters retired on strikes.

All told, Strasburg went seven innings, and allowed two earned runs on four hits, zero walks and 14 strikeouts.  Zero walks.  It can't be said enough.  He threw a total of 94 pitches, 65 for strikes.  And no walks.

(Photo by C. Nichols/Nats News Network)
As for the rest of the game...

Ryan Zimmerman got the Nats on the board early with his 12th home run in the bottom of the first inning.  The Nats trailed 2-1 entering the sixth when the bats would liven things up a bit.  Zimmerman (3-for-4, HR, RBI, 3 runs) singled and Adam Dunn (3-for-4, HR, 2 RBI) followed with a titanic blast (11) to the second deck above the Nats bullpen in right.

The next batter, Josh Willingham, followed suit, adding his 11th homer of the season to the bleachers in left field.

Washington got one more run, courtesy of a based-loaded double play in the eighth, giving the bullpen a little more wiggle room.

They didn't need it though.

Tyler Clippard gave up a single but struck out two in the eighth inning, and Matt Capps returned from his recent struggles to retire the side in the ninth for his 19th save of the season.

Asked about the larger importance of the evening's events, Strasburg seemed to remain within himself, saying it was a big day for him and his family and it wasn't for him to talk about the day's importance.

"At one point I lost track of how many innings I threw. I was like, 'You know what? I'm just going to go out there and have fun.' It's amazing.

"It's kind of like when you get married and everything, you kind of go into it wanting to remember everything -- and once it's done, you can't remember a single thing."

But his catcher, future Hall of Famer Rodriguez knew better.

"I'm proud of him [Strasburg].  I'm proud of the organization.  The city of Washington.  I mean, the fans came to see what they wanted to see.  There's nothing better than that.  14 strikeouts?  The kid pitched seven innings.  Good show.  He did great."

Great, indeed.

NATS NOTES:  Back to regular baseball tomorrow, as John Lannan (2-3) faces Brad Lincoln (0-0), the No. 4 overall pick in the 2006 draft making his major league debut, at 7:05 pm.

The Nats record is 28-31, 5 1/2 games behind division leading Atlanta.

The Nats had 11 hits, one walk, struck out once and left five men on base.