BOSTON — A century’s worth of players have passed through Fenway Park, where history seeps through the emerald walls. Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper graced the cathedral for the first time on Friday night, and they did not dissolve into its annals. They made them richer, more complete: The old yard can say it bore witness to Strasburg and Harper at their unbridled beginning, the moment in time when the Washington Nationals became something fresh and different.
Two of the most arresting players in baseball spearheaded the Nationals’ assault on the Boston Red Sox in a 7-4 victory. Harper, the 19-year-old without an off switch, went 3 for 5 with a double, three RBI and a 420-foot, two-run home run. Strasburg, pitching on the two-year anniversary of his masterful debut, threw his first 100-mph fastball of the season, struck out 13 over six innings of four-hit ball and escaped a bases-loaded jam by throwing a 3-2 fastball with his 119th and final pitch. [...]
Before the game, Harper chatted with David Ortiz, the slugger who blew him a kiss at last year’s All-Star Game. On the base paths, Dustin Pedroia told him, “Great job.” A fan sitting on top of the Green Monster yelled Harper’s name until he waved back. Harper absorbed everything, and then he grabbed the game by the throat. [...]
In total, Strasburg would induce 20 swing-and-misses, a new career high. He “kind of had a little bit of a breakthrough” with his breaking ball, he said, from a fascinating source. Strasburg wanted to make an adjustment with the pitch. He sought advice from Rick Ankiel, the outfielder who once was the hottest pitching prospect in baseball, before he lost the ability to throw a strike.
“I watched him growing up,” Strasburg said. “He had one of the best curveballs in the game, and he knew how to throw it and he knew how to use it to his advantage.”
Who knew that when Rick Ankiel finally made another pitching contribution to a Major League baseball team that this is how he would do it?