By Cory Giger, Altoona Mirror
ALTOONA, Pa.—Stephen Strasburg's minor league debut turned into a major spectacle for both the 21-year-old phenom and the Altoona Curve franchise.
More than 70 media members showed up Sunday afternoon at Blair County Ballpark to see Strasburg start for Double-A Harrisburg. The rest of the nation, meanwhile, got a chance to watch his performance live on ESPNews, making it one of the biggest events in Altoona sports history.
"Great atmosphere," Strasburg said of the experience. "It's just an amazing feeling to have your first outing in front of a sellout crowd and all the attention and everything.
"It made it seem like this was one of the biggest games of my life, when it was actually the fourth game of the season."
Strasburg didn't disappoint, yielding four runs (one earned) and four hits over five innings. The righthander struck out eight and walked two in an 82-pitch outing that included a fastball that averaged 98 mph.
The Senators committed a pair of errors in the fourth inning—including a botched double play—that cost Strasburg three unearned runs.
Harrisburg's offense rallied, however, and helped Strasburg earn the victory with a 6-4 decision over the Curve.
"I definitely was super excited," Strasburg said. "There was a lot of anticipation for this outing."
As much anticipation perhaps as anyone has ever seen for a minor league player's debut. And while Strasburg won on the mound, the Curve franchise won rave reviews for being able to handle the media circus and national TV responsibilities.
"It's unbelievable," Curve owner Bob Lozinak, who has been running minor league teams for 30 years, said of the national exposure.
A crowd of 7,887 made it a surreal afternoon. Many fans usually are so caught up in socializing, eating or watching all the gimmicks that they don't watch much of the action on the field in the minors, but on this day all eyes in the stands were glued on Strasburg.
"It felt like you were at a major league ballpark because everybody was paying attention," Curve season-ticket holder Kassy Olewiler said. "I think there was a real sense of something special happening when we were watching, and everybody knew that."
Strasburg gave up a run in the first inning on a double by Alex Presley and RBI single by Miles Durham. The pitcher admitted he was "moving a little too quick out there" with all the adrenaline flowing.
"At the beginning, Steven was a little anxious, and once he settled down he threw the ball very well," Harrisburg manager Randy Knorr said.
Strasburg cruised through the second and third innings. The botched double play opened the door for the Curve to score three times in the fourth, with Jose De Los Santos and pitcher Rudy Owens collecting RBI singles.
Owens, who went 11-2, 2.10 last season between low Class A West Virginia and high Class A Lynchburg, allowed three runs in 4 2/3 innings in a no-decision.
Strasburg, in his second career at-bat, smacked an RBI double to right field in the fifth inning. He finished his day on the mound with a quick turn in the bottom of the fifth, then got in line for the victory as his offense took the lead in the sixth.
The Curve opened the season with three straight wins over Harrisburg and were in position to spoil Strasburg's debut until the Senators rallied.
"I think we gave him a pretty good run for his money," said Curve manager Matt Walbeck, Baseball America's 2007 Minor League Manager of the Year.
Strasburg, who will make his next start Friday in Harrisburg against New Britain, learned one key lesson in his debut.
"Just trust my stuff, bottom line," he said. "Don't try to be too perfect. That's exactly what I'm going to try to do."
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