Youth served: Strasburg, Harper light up Fenway

Youth served: Strasburg, Harper light up Fenway

Youth served: Strasburg, Harper light up Fenway
BOSTON -- Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper played their first professional games at Fenway Park on Friday night, and they dominated the action as the Nationals pounded the Red Sox, 7-4.

At 23, Strasburg pitched six innings, allowing two runs on four hits and striking out a season-high 13, 10 of which were recorded over his last four innings. Strasburg became the youngest pitcher to strike out 13 hitters at Fenway Park since Roger Clemens fanned 20 Mariners in 1986.

Harper, meanwhile, fell a triple shy of the cycle, going 3-for-5 with three RBIs. All three hits came against left-handers.

"Strasburg threw a great game out there -- 13 strikeouts. He was a competitor out there on the bump tonight," Harper said. "Everybody on this club swung it well tonight. Strasburg came out and dealt. That was great to see."

Strasburg's first visit to Fenway came when he was on the USA Baseball National Team in 2008. He said he enjoyed the atmosphere and that the "fans were great."

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It was the same atmosphere on Friday, with 37,309 in the stands. Strasburg threw a career-high 119 pitches, most of which came early in the game.

In fact, Strasburg allowed a two-run double to Mike Aviles in the second inning to give Boston a 2-0 lead.

"Obviously, you don't want to go out there and throw that many pitches in six innings," Strasburg said. "But sometimes, they are going to make you work. I felt early on they were taking a lot of pitches. That's where I need to do a better job of pounding the strike zone and making them swing the bat."

The way Strasburg was throwing earlier in the game, manager Davey Johnson thought he would last no more than five innings.

"I thought he got out of sorts earlier in the ballgame, but he came back and started really going after them," Johnson said. "I thought I may have to [take him out] after five [innings]."

Strasburg showed that he could get out of a major jam in the sixth inning. The Red Sox had the bases loaded with one out and Strasburg, who is on an innings limit, already had thrown over 100 pitches up to that point. But Johnson had no intention of taking Strasburg out of the game.

"I don't care what his pitch count was," Johnson said. "I was going to have to fight ownership before I let him go on too long. But I didn't want to have to fight Stras' if I wanted to take him out. But it was such a great effort."

Strasburg showed that effort in the sixth by striking out Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kevin Youkilis to end the threat. Youkilis struck out looking, argued the called and was ejected by home-plate umpire Doug Eddings.

"If I was going to take him out, I was going to take him out against Salt, because he is a little weaker from the right side," said Johnson. "But with runners on there and the way he was pitching, there was no way I was going to hook him."

It was all Nationals after Boston took the lead, and it was Harper who rose to the occasion.

His first hit came in the third inning, doubling off Red Sox starter Felix Doubront and later scoring on Ian Desmond's two-run double to highlight a three-run frame.

"Harp, what a night he had," Johnson said. "It seemed like [Red Sox manager] Bobby [Valentine] was bringing in the left-handers for him all night. It didn't seem to faze the kid."

An inning later, Tyler Moore scored on a double by Danny Espinosa, while Harper homered over the right-center-field wall -- near the 420 marker -- driving in Danny Espinosa ahead of him to give Washington a 3-2 lead. It was Harper's sixth homer of the season. At 19, Harper is the second youngest player -- Robin Yount is the youngest -- to homer at Fenway Park.

In the sixth inning, Harper singled off left-hander Rich Hill to drive in Moore, before being thrown out at second trying to stretch the single into a double.

Washington's relievers made it interesting late in the game. In the eighth inning, Adrian Gonzalez hit his 200th career homer off Nats lefty Ross Detwiler -- he had his first bid at the milestone taken away in the third, when Xavier Nady reached over the short wall in right and brought it back with a terrific catch -- while Brad Lidge allowed an RBI double to Daniel Nava in the ninth.

But in the end, Strasburg and Harper stole the show at Fenway, and Valentine praised the organization for the money that was spent on its top picks in the 2009 and '10 First-Year Player Drafts.

"I think [general manager] Mike Rizzo did a heck of a job spending a lot of money and getting two outstanding players in the first rounds of those Drafts," Valentine said, before going on to applaud his young outfielder.

"Harper was amazing," he said. "Everything he did out there, including catching that ball that Salty hit in the gap -- the first ball hit hard there -- he came out of nowhere to catch that. He threw the ball from the wall, one-hopped to home, in the ninth. He hit some pretty good breaking balls off of left-handers -- one for a hit to left, one for a groundout to short where they almost beat it out.

"So he was very impressive."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.