“If this was Strasmas, we got coal in our stockings.”
My friends just got married a month ago, moved into their new home together a week ago, and so they did what any newlywed couple who met in college in Atlanta would do: they checked to see when Stephen Strasburg would make his next start against the Braves — Tuesday, July 27, the calendar said — and then they drove four hours to Washington to watch. I rushed home from work to meet them and take the stadium-bound Metro, which was packed to the gills with red-shirted and red-capped Nats fans, nearly all of them wearing some variation on Strasburg #37.
We joined the crimson sea of fans pouring into the stadium, and took our seats at 7:04, just in time to see the pitcher warming up. And just in time to notice that the cleanshaven Latino on the mound did not bear much resemblance to the 6’4″, goateed Strasburg. Realization dawned on us all at the same time. There would be no Strasmas this week. He’d felt sore during his warmup pitches just a few minutes before we arrived, and the team quietly yanked him. Nationals Park, which was filled by 40,043 Strasburg-enrapt fans that night, echoed with boos of confusion and outrage.
The fill-in was Miguel Batista, a wry 39-year old, who understood the fans’ dismay: “Imagine if you go there to see Miss Universe and you end up having Miss Iowa, you might get those kind of boos. But it’s OK,” he told the AP. “Miss Iowa” is putting it mildly: he hadn’t started a game in two years, and has a career record of 96-110 and an ERA of 4.53, in 16 seasons for eight different organizations. (The real Miss Iowa took the analogy in stride: “It was kind of a diss at first. But I think that I’ll handle that.”)
Batista, somehow, then he led the last-place Nationals to victory over the first-place Braves. The sea of red quickly came over to his side as he quieted the Braves for five innings, and my Braves fan friends went from nonplussed to depressed. It’s somehow more thrilling to watch a phenom blow your team away with 100-mile an hour fastballs than it is to watch a geezer lull them to sleep with moxie and guile. “If this was Strasmas, we got coal in our stockings,” my friend’s wife told him. Nats fans must have felt the same way today, when they learned he was making his first trip to the DL. Still, on Tuesday night, the fireworks roared at the end of the game, and Nats fans discovered a new kind of Strasmas: the one where they win on a day that Strasburg didn’t even pitch.