SAN DIEGO -- Stephen Strasburg has done just about everything in his amateur career, from striking out 23 in a game to pitching for the Olympic team to cementing his place as the top talent in this June's First-Year Player Draft class. The one thing the San Diego State ace hadn't done was pitch a no-hitter.
Facing an aggressive Air Force lineup at Tony Gwynn Stadium, the presumed top pick in the Draft threw the first no-no of his career on Friday night as the Aztecs won, 5-0, in front of a stadium-record crowd of 3,337.
"I was giving everything I had left," said Strasburg about a ninth inning that had the sellout crowd on their feet. "In that last inning, I think my stuff was the best it was all game. It was great to see a bunch of fans come out again, especially possibly for my last home night. To finish it like that was very memorable."
Strasburg allowed just two baserunners all night, both via walks, and one was erased trying to steal. Only one runner reached second base against Strasburg. He struck out 17 while throwing a fairly economical 116 pitches.
"I'm pretty much forcing guys to hit my best stuff," Strasburg said. "If they do, then maybe I'll change it. Tonight, they didn't."
Strasburg started the game by striking out two of the game's first three batters looking, and he punctuated it by striking out the side in the ninth to end it, throwing down his glove and jumping into his catcher's arms in jubilation. He also struck out the side in the second and the sixth. The only inning he didn't record a strikeout was in the eighth, and he was never really challenged.
Strasburg masterfully mixed his pitches, locating his 95-98 mph fastball all night while consistently buckling the knees of Air Force hitters with his nasty slider.
"The first pitch of the game kind of set the tone with what happened the rest of the night," Aztecs coach Tony Gwynn said. "He threw a fastball 97-98 mph, and the guy was right on it, fouled it straight back. After that, he mixed in the breaking ball, he threw his changeup [and] he spotted his fastball. Even if you're aggressive, the breaking ball kind of keeps you in check. From the second inning on, he was able to throw that thing for a strike."
All this took place with most of the Washington Nationals brass, including acting general manager Mike Rizzo and scouting director Dana Brown, in attendance. The Nationals, of course, have the No. 1 pick in the Draft. True to what he's said all season, Strasburg maintains focus on the here and now with his current team, rather than what uniform he might be wearing later this summer.
"The game's not over, the season's not over. We still have a lot to accomplish," Strasburg said. "Every game is extremely important for me and this team. It's crunch time right now. This was a must-win game and a must-win series. We have to pick up these next two to stay in a good position to get to a regional."
For the season, Strasburg is 11-0 with a 1.24 ERA. He's struck out 164 against just 17 walks in 87 1/3 innings while yielding just 48 hits. He's reached double digits in strikeouts in 11 of his 12 starts, and he's never walked more than two in one outing.
"I guess I should be super-happy tonight, but I'm telling you, he just methodically goes about his business," Gwynn said. "He kind of thought out what he wants to do and how he wants to do it, then he goes out and executes it.
"He threw all his pitches. He threw them ahead in the count, he threw them behind in the count, you know, the things good pitchers do. In the ninth inning, he closed the deal. He's what every team should be looking for."
In many ways it was more surprising that he'd never thrown a no-hitter than that he pulled it off on Friday. Though, when pressed for the truth, Strasburg did admit that this wasn't really the first time he'd held a team hitless.
"Little League, but that doesn't count," he said.