Friday, May 11, 2012

How you can tell when Stephen Strasburg is pitching

5:45 p.m.: I leave the office on Grant Street and go outside to meet Nils. We swing by Six Penn for a light dinner and a pre-game beer. 


6:45: Walk across the Clemente Bridge, enter through center field gate.


Top 1st: Two outs. Adam LaRoche, now playing first base for Washington, comes to the plate. Most of about the 8,000 people in attendance boo him, presumably because he said his heart was in Pittsburgh before signing with...wait...no, they're actually booing him for no reason at all. 


Bottom 1st: Jose Tabata rips Stephen Strasburg's first pitch to right for a single. Glad we got the obligatory hit out of the way early. With two outs, Andrew McCutchen strikes out swinging. It begins. 


Top 2nd: Bryce Harper puts eye black on his french fries, grounds out to second base. Danny Espinosa singles, is caught stealing second by Michael McKenry. That's, like, the second time this year a Pirates catcher has thrown out a runner.


Bottom 2nd: A really greasy, twenty-something yinzer boy situates himself in the row in front of us. He immediately begins cheering on various players by yelling out the integers on their jerseys. "Come on, two-four!" Pedro Alvarez steps in against Strasburg, only to have his heart, his dreams, his desire, stripped on three straight pitches. Fastball (95), changeup (89), fastball (97). Neil Walker manages to see one more pitch. Fastball (97), fastball (97), fastball (97), changeup (90). Strasburg toys with Garrett Jones because fastballs are boring. Curveball (81), changeup (89), fastball (97). Strasburg has K'd four in a row. The Kid leaves to get french fries


Top 3rdThe kid returns with his fries and sits down, only to realize he forgot ketchup. He makes everyone in the row get up again. Kevin Correia responds like the All-Star he is, getting a quick ground out before plunking the opposing pitcher. 


Bottom 3rdThe Kid returns with a healthy pool of ketchup. Clint Barmes goes down on a called third strike that, while clocked at 97 mph, may not have existed in the first place. McKenry foul-tips one at 98 into the catcher's glove, creating a hole in space-time. Correia fouls off a couple of fastballs before staring at two curveballs, the second of which breaks across six parallel realities. "You suck, ump!" yells Greaseball the Kid. Strasburg has struck out seven straight hitters. 


Top 4th: Bryce Harper lines 9,000-mph single to left off an 86-mph...fastball? Changeup? Hard to tell with Correia. 


Bottom 4th: Tabata lines Strasburg's first offering to center for a clean single. Two hits for Jose on as many pitches. Shockingly, Alex Presley bunts Tabata over to second. McCutchen singles to right, Tabata scores. Harper fields the hit and makes an unbelievably great, stupid throw home. Nats' catcher Jesus Flores can't handle it, and McCutchen takes second as the ball goes to the backstop. Pedro Alvarez sees two at-bats worth of pitches (six) before striking out swinging on a changeup. Walker lifts a bloop single to center, McCutchen scores. "Atta go, one-eight!" Garrett Jones inexplicably takes three straight pitches for balls, but his patience is wasted when Walker is thrown out while trying to decide if he wants to steal second or not. 2-0 Pirates. 


Top 5th: Strasburg doubles to right. He has more doubles this season than Neil Walker.


Bottom 5th: The Kid finishes his fries and pulls out one of those electronic cigarettes -- the kind that dominate the popup ads on the internet. He toys with it for a bit. Jones strikes out swinging. "Come on, four-six!" Barmes strikes out swinging. McKenry belts a double to right. Correia strikes out swinging. That's 11 K's for Strasburg, who's still showing the effects of the Tommy John surgery he had less than two years ago, as his fastball tops out at 98 instead of 100. 


Top 6th: Kevin Correia becomes unglued. Roger Bernadina homers to dead center. Ryan Zimmerman walks. Adam LaRoche homers to center. The kid is puffing on his electronic cigarette. Our immediate area smells like mocha flavored nicotine. 3-2 Nationals. 


Bottom 6th: Tabata grounds out. Presley goes down on strikes. At this moment, Stephen Strasburg's career K:BB ratio versus the Pirates is 26:1. McCutchen walks on seven pitches. Alvarez Walks on five pitches. Walker walks on four pitches. Garrett Jones begins the worst at-bat in the history of baseball by swinging at a curveball out of the zone. "Four-six let's go four-six! Come on, Buccos!" He strikes out on six pitches, only one of which was actually a strike. 


Bottom 7th: The electronic cigarette appears to be malfunctioning, as the Kid is tapping at it in obvious frustration. 


Top 8th: Ah, there it goes. Second-hand Internet chemicals for everyone! 


Top 9th: Chris Resop on in relief. Rick Ankeil pops a ball 14 miles into the air above right field. It's an easy out, only it lands in the seats and is actually a home run. As Jesus Flores steps to the plate, the kid takes out his phone and calls up the video camera. After watching Stephen Strasburg strike out 13 hitters in six innings and seeing Bryce Harper play, the matchup that this guy wants to record for posterity is Chris Resop versus Jesus Flores. Flores lofts a 1-1 fastball to center for a quick out. We are all witness. 4-2 Nationals. 


Bottom 9th: Interim closer Henry Rodriguez on in relief for Washington. The Kid stashes the electronic cigarette and whips out a can of Skoal. The ballpark is not big enough to contain the hilarity. Walker strikes out swinging, but reaches as Flores blocks the third strike in the dirt, corrals it, then fires it to first where LaRoche bobbles it. Garrett Jones flies out, Casey McGehee grounds out. God is real and he is on everyone's side but ours.


Epilogue: The Pirates won the first two games in their series against the Nationals, prompting some fans to bring brooms to the game with the hope of sweeping the series. The level of hubris it takes to bring a broom to a game -- especially when your team can't count a winning season among its last 20 -- is unfathomable to me. In situations like this one, where a team is going for a sweep and can not deliver, fans who do not bring brooms to games should be allowed to summarily beat it out of the fans who do. Walking back toward the center field gate, I saw someone carrying a broom, and while staring him down, loudly asked Nils what kind of window-licking jackass brings a broom to a game. He fled.

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