There are very few times in your life where you can legitimately say that everything you have ever worked for has come down to one moment: right here, right now, what are you going to do going forward? For Stephen Strasburg, that moment comes at 7:08 CST tonight, when he takes the mound against the Houston Astros with his Nationals facing elimination in the World Series. The trajectory of Strasburg’s entire career has led up to this exact moment in space and time.
At first, he was the savior, the preordained greatest pitcher in baseball history before even stepping on a major league mound. The time he struck out 23 at San Diego State and the time he struck out 17 in his final college home game lent themselves to such hyperbole, fair or unfair. His first start didn’t do much to quell these calls: he struck out 14 and conceded just 2 runs, earning the win over seven dominant innings in the greatest debut in Nationals history. Yes, Ryan Zimmerman was the original National, but Strasburg was the one who brought hope to those who had none. With him in the fold, the Nationals could dream big.
Until they couldn’t. Until Strasburg got injured again and again. Tommy John surgery turned Strasburg’s arm into a shell of its former self. The stubborn flamethrower who still wanted to blow the fastball by the hitter in the seventh inning of a tie game couldn’t do it at the same speed anymore. It just wasn’t physically possible.
But as Strasburg lost velocity, he gained maturity. The mule-like stubbornness gave way to a new Strasburg who was willing to adjust, willing to do whatever it takes to win the ball game. Today, Strasburg’s curveball and changeup are among the most dominant pitches in the game. Make no mistake, he is still a power pitcher, but he’s a fully developed one, with three plus pitches that have overwhelmed hitters all year.
And as Strasburg gained maturity, so did the Nationals. They won four division titles and made the playoffs in five of the ten seasons that Strasburg has been with the team. Many players have come and gone, but Strasburg is the one who stayed: a constant amidst the playoff heartbreak, the managerial firings, and the bullpen disasters. There was never a Bryce Harper era and I don’t ever want to hear any talk of one. It has always been the Stephen Strasburg era, and we may be living in the last days of it. If we are, it’s high time to appreciate the one who stayed.
The hype, the debut, the injuries, the shutdown before the 2012 playoffs, the maturation, the changeup, all of it has built to this exact moment in space and time. Right here, right now is the reason why the 2012 shutdown happened. Right here, right now is the reason why Strasburg was the original savior of the franchise. We know Strasburg won’t feel the pressure: he’s said repeatedly that pressure is completely manufactured by himself. But we will. Every moment of this game will be a pulse-pounding affair, and that’s merely to extend this series to a game with even greater implications. Yet, I can rest easy knowing that if we go down, we went down swinging with Stephen Strasburg on the mound.
Merry Strasmas, everyone. Let’s do this shit.