With a four-run lead, 7,887 people in the stands, many more watching on national television and the sun glaring down on Blair County Ballpark, things couldn't have been much better for the Altoona Curve Sunday afternoon.
Harrisburg decided to slightly spoil the moment however, scoring five runs over the fifth and sixth innings en route to a 6-4 victory that dropped Altoona's record to 3-1.
"We don't want to get too high or too low on any particular occasion," Altoona Curve manager Matt Walbeck said. "It's just a matter of going out and playing the game the right way and executing each play."
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Harrisburg Senators pitcher Stephen Strasburg delivers a pitch at Blair County Ballpark on Sunday.
Treating Sunday's game as just another contest seemed just about impossible.
Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 pitching prospect in all of baseball, left Altoona with a victory in his first professional outing, but he had to work for it.
After recording the first two outs, Strasburg allowed a shot to deep right center by Alex Presley that smashed off the bottom of the wall for a double. Moments later, Miles Durham drove Presley in with an RBI single.
Tonight: Richmond at Altoona, 6:30 p.m.
Pitchers: Squirrels LHP Craig Clark (0-0) vs. Curve LHP Justin Wilson (0-0)
Covering the bases: B4
"We came out ready to go," Walbeck said. "Presley had a big double to the gap, and then Durham had a big two-out RBI, and that was big. Guys approached everything pretty solid."
Early in the game, it was Altoona's starter, Rudy Owens, who appeared ready for the spotlight. Owens allowed just one base runner through four innings and struck out four.
He also helped cap off a three-run fourth for the Curve with an RBI single up the middle.
Strasburg walked Kris Watts to begin the inning and looked as though he might get Josh Harrison to ground into a double play, but Senators second baseman Michael Martinez dropped the ball, and both runners scored when Jose De Los Santos singled and the throw home got away from the catcher.
"We were just trying to get after him early," Presley said regarding Strasburg. "We were trying to hit his fastball, because his secondary stuff is so good. You don't want to get behind in the count, because he can really put you away."
Strasburg got ahead of plenty of hitters, throwing 55 strikes to just 27 balls in his 82-pitch effort while striking out eight.
The 6-foot-4 right-hander also played a role in Owens' demise. With Jhonatan Solano on second and one run already in, Strasburg doubled to deep right and later scored on a Martinez single. Strasburg never had a collegiate at bat while playing for Tony Gwynn at San Diego State.
"[Gwynn] never gave me an opportunity to bat," Strasburg said. "I'm sure he's eating his words now."
Though Strasburg exited after the fifth inning, the Curve managed nearly nothing off Harrisburg's bullpen with just two base runners the rest of the way.
Bill Rhinehart drove in a pair of runs off Curve reliever Dustin Molleken to put Harrisburg ahead for good and give Strasburg a victory in his first game.
Altoona will begin a three-game series at Blair County Ballpark with the Richmond Flying Squirrels today.
"We had our chance to sweep today," Walbeck said. "Unfortunately we didn't, but if you look back on the series, we played good baseball. We ran the bases hard, our bullpen did a good job, and we played good defense.
"I'm happy with what we've done so far, and I see us continuing to get better."
Key player: Stephen Strasburg struck out eight, allowed just one earned run, doubled home a run and scored another.
Play play: Bill Rhinehart doubled home the tying and go-ahead runs in the sixth inning.
Key stat: Harrisburg out-hit Altoona, 12-5.
How they scored
Bottom 1st: Alex Presley doubled, scored on Miles Durham single (0-1).
Bottom 4th: Kris Watts walked, Josh Harrison reached on fielder's choice. Watts scored on Jose De Los Santos single, Harrison scored on Leonard Davis throwing error. De Los Santos scored on Rudy Owens single (0-4).
Top 5th: Jesus Valdez singled, scored on Jhonatan Solono single. Solono scored on Strasburg double. Strasburg scored on Michael Martinez single (3-4).
Top 6th: Valdez singled, Adam Fox singled, both scored on Rhinehart double (5-4).
Top 9th: Solano singled, scored on Martinez single (6-4).