Two of baseball’s youngest stars made very memorable debuts at the game’s oldest field.
Stephen Strasburg struck out 13 in six innings, Bryce Harper homered and the Washington Nationals beat the Boston Red Sox 7-4 on Friday night for the franchise’s first victory at Fenway Park.
”It’s an unreal experience, coming in and playing for the first time at Fenway,” said Harper, who had three hits and drove in three runs. ”It was so much fun. They just have a great fan base and it’s just great to play here.”
Harper admitted to being a little jittery before the game. Fenway is 100 years old this season. Harper isn’t quite 20. But he played like a veteran Friday, dusting himself off after striking out in the first inning and helping the Nationals to three-run rallies in the third and fourth innings.
Strasburg also acknowledged playing in the iconic ballpark may have made him a little anxious, but he also settled down after allowing two runs in the second inning and tied his season high for strikeouts while throwing a career-high 119 pitches.
”Obviously you don’t want to go out there and throw that many pitches through six innings, but sometimes they’re just going to make you work,” Strasburg said. ”I knew it was up there, but I had so much adrenaline being at Fenway for the first time it didn’t really matter.”
The Montreal Expos went 0-6 at Fenway before the club moved to Washington. The Nationals were 0-3 in Boston, but Harper and Strasburg showed why Washington is in front in the NL East.
”It was good to see all the young guys here rise, knowing they’re playing in one of the most historic ballparks in the game,” Strasburg said. ”It’s awesome to go out there and be successful.”
Harper hit a two-run shot in the fourth and an RBI single in the sixth.
Strasburg (7-1) needed 33 pitches to get out of his final inning when he worked out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam. He finished one strikeout shy of his career high of 14, set on June 8, 2010 – exactly two years ago to the day Friday – against Pittsburgh in his major league debut.
Strasburg struck out five straight and seven of eight during a stretch from the third inning to the fifth. He gave up two runs and four hits while improving to 4-0 with a 2.74 ERA in his last four starts.
”He threw a lot of pitches in six innings for sure. Like they were saying, he’s not just a thrower, he’s a pitcher,” Boston manager Bobby Valentine said. ”He’s special. He’s a very good pitcher, obviously.”
Boston starter Felix Doubront (6-3) was even better than Strasburg early on, striking out four in the first two innings, but the Nationals got to him for three runs in the third on three hits and a pair of walks. They added three more in the fourth, including a pair on Harper’s two-run shot to straightaway center, while building a 6-2 lead.
Doubront lasted just four innings and was charged with six runs and eight hits, five of them doubles.
Adrian Gonzalez hit his 200th career homer, a solo shot off Ross Detwiler in the eighth, and Daniel Nava delivered an RBI double in the ninth against Brad Lidge to get Boston within three. Washington then brought in Tyler Clippard, who got two outs for his sixth save in seven chances.
Strasburg faltered a bit in the second when he walked David Ortiz to start the inning, Ryan Sweeney hit a two-out single and Mike Aviles doubled off the Green Monster to drive in both runners.
”He was throwing the heck out of the ball,” Washington manager Davey Johnson said. ”He got a little out of sorts I thought there early in the ballgame, but came back and started really going after them.”
The early Boston lead was short-lived.
After striking out in his first at-bat, Harper showed why he’s among the early leaders for rookie of the year when he hit a line drive to center in the third that he stretched into a double.
Danny Espinosa, who was aboard after a leadoff walk, moved to third on Harper’s play and scored on Ryan Zimmerman’s single. Ian Desmond doubled to right-center to put Washington up 3-2.
Espinosa doubled in Tyler Moore in the fourth and scored on Harper’s sixth homer.
Dustin Pedroia singled with one out in the sixth for Boston’s first hit since the second inning, snapping an 0-for-14 slump and getting a loud cheer from Fenway fans who had watched Strasburg strike out batter after batter.
The Red Sox then caught up to Strasburg for a stretch. Gonzalez followed Pedroia with a double off the Green Monster and Ortiz walked to load the bases with one out. But the right-hander then struck out Jarrod Saltalamacchia swinging and got Kevin Youkilis looking on a 96-mph fastball.
”That’s the difference between great pitchers and ones that aren’t,” Saltalamacchia said. ”He just did a great job of getting himself out of jams.”
Youkilis thought the final pitch was low and furiously argued the call before he was ejected by umpire Doug Eddings.
NOTES: Harper is the second-youngest visiting player to homer at Fenway. Robin Yount was 32 days younger when he homered here for Milwaukee in 1975. … Strasburg also struck out 13 in a 4-2 win over Pittsburgh on May 10. … Friday’s game was the first of 15 straight Washington will play against teams from the American League East, meeting every team three times. … Boston pitching coach Bob McClure was attending to a family matter and not with the team.