The comparisons to Walter Johnson were inevitable. The Hall of Fame pitcher who began his career in 1907, arrived in the Majors with a backstory much like that which Stephen Strasburg brought with him to the nation's capital when the Washington Nationals made him the no.1 pick in the 2009 Draft. As Los Angeles Times' writer Chris Dufresne wrote in a June 2, 2008 article entitled, "Babe in Boomtown", Johnson's story starts with him as a teenager from Kansas living and playing baseball in Fullerton, California two years before his MLB debut:
"Johnson attended Fullerton Union High long enough to have, in 1905, struck out 27 batters in a 15-inning game against Santa Ana High."
Strasburg's SDSU Baseball Coach Tony Gwynn, in an interview with Jim Duquette and Kevin Kennedy on the Sirius/XM MLB Network show "Power Alley", repeated the Strasburg version of this story which has the now-21-then-19-year-old, "...[Strasburg] punch out 23 in a nine-inning game that he won 1-0," over Utah on April 11, 2008, "..tying for the third-most [K's] ever in a college game and the most since the 1981 season," according to Strasburg's bio which remains on SDSU's baseball site. You remember the video...
In writer Al Stump's 1994 biography of Ty Cobb entitled, "Cobb: A biography", (it's also on Walter Johnson's wikipedia page), the Hall of Fame hitter is quoted talking about his first encounter with Walter Johnson on August 2, 1907 in a game between the Cobb's Detroit Tigers and Johnson's Senators in old National Park (Boundary Field) in Washington, D.C.:
"The first time I faced him, I watched him take that easy windup. And then something went past me that made me flinch. The thing just hissed with danger. We couldn't touch him... every one of us knew we'd met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ball park."
In a March 9, 2010 article by ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, this generation's Tigers' slugger, Miguel Cabrera, described his first encounter with Stephen Strasburg in the right-hander's first Spring Training start, for an article entitled, "Stephen Strasburg really says hello," wherein Cabrera was quoted, after striking out on a 98mph fastball up high, stating that, "What you read about [Strasburg] it's true," :
'It's real. He's the kind of pitcher you don't see every day....When he throws the ball,' Cabrera said, 'it's like an explosion.'"
Walter Johnson's career strikeout total of 3,509, earned over 21 seasons and 802 games, stood from the end of Johnson's career on September 30, 1927 until Nolan Ryan surpassed it on April 27, 1983 in a game between Ryan's Astros and the Montreal Expos as Los Angeles Times' writer Chris Dufresne wrote in the June 2, 2008 article referenced earlier, entitled, "Babe in Boomtown", and it was Nolan Ryan, the premier power pitcher and strikeout artist of his age whose name Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez dropped after the first time he caught for Stephen Strasburg. Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell quoted Pudge in the article entitled, "Nats' Rodriguez terms Strasburg 'amazing'" talking with Nats' pitching coach Steve McCatty about Strasburg:
"'Is his stuff like [Justin] Verlander?' asked McCatty, knowing Rodríguez caught the A.L. strikeout leader in Detroit. 'No,' said Rodríguez. 'It's like Nolan [Ryan].'"
Asked in a post game press conference if his goal, after mostly pitching to contact in the minors and getting a ton of groundouts, (he did strike out 10.6 K/9 combined in Double and Triple-A) was to collect a lot of strikeouts in his major league career, Strasburg, who struck out 14 on 94 pitches in 7.0 innings pitched in his debut against the Pirates, told the members of the media who'd gathered to speak to Strasburg and Pudge Rodriguez, "Yeah I've done that in the past, but I try not to do that,":
Stephen Strasburg: "I don't want to let it change the way I attack hitters. Bottom line, I just want to go out there and execute, you know, the majority of my pitches out there the way I can and the strikeouts are more of an accident than anything, you want to go up there pitching to contact, wanting them to put the ball in play, and it happens some games, but not all the games are going to be like this."
What will today's start against the Indians in Progressive Field in Cleveland be like?