Friday, May 8, 2009

Strasburg no-hits Air Force before record crowd

When I heard on Monday that tonight's San Diego State-Air Force game was already a sellout, I joked with SDSU coach Tony Gwynn that they would really know college baseball had made it in this town when scalpers were hanging out in front of the ticket windows before the game.

I guess it wasn't a joke after all.

On Wednesday, an ad turned up on Craigslist for four tickets to the game priced at $40 apiece (face value is $7). And it didn't even guarantee the buyer a seat. The tickets were for standing room only.


I don't know if the seller ever found a buyer, but it turns out that the tickets would have been worth every penny.

That's how electric it was tonight as SDSU junior right-hander Stephen Strasburg pitched the seventh no-hitter in school history — and first in 20 years — in a 5-0 win over Air Force before 3,337, the largest crowd in Tony Gwynn Stadium history.

Strasburg struck out 17 in the game, including seven of the first nine hitters, and allowed just two baserunners in the game —  on leadoff walks in the fourth and sixth innings. One of the runners was erased attempting to steal, meaning Strasburg pitched to just one batter over the minimum. In his final home start of the season, Strasburg finished off the Falcons by striking out the side in the ninth inning.

“I was giving it everything I had left," said Strasburg, whose fastball touched 101 mph in the third inning and consistently hit 99 mph during the game. "I think in that last inning my stuff was the best it was the whole game.

Strasburg tossed a one-hitter in his 23-strikeout game last year against Utah and also had a one-hitter last year against TCU, but this was the first no-hitter of his career. Tossing a no-hitter is "hard," said Strasburg, "especially at the college level because you’ve got aluminum bats and a guy could hit a 15 hopper over a guy's head for a single."

Strasburg improved to 11-0 on the season, lowered his ERA to 1.24 and increased his strikeout total to 164 in 87.1 innings with just 17 walks.

“We’ve been seeing the same thing all year," said SDSU coach Tony Gwynn. "Tonight wasn’t much different, except that they didn’t get a hit.

"It’s fitting he throws a no-hitter in his last start at home."

There was really no close play that jeopardized the no-hitter. The deepest drive was the one left fielder Brandon Decker caught in the fourth inning at the warning track. In the eighth, Jon McMahon hit a chopper up the middle but shortstop Ryan O’Sullivan ranged behind second base and turned it into an out.

“Everytime Strasburg goes on the mound it’s something special,” said O’Sullivan. “As the game went on, you’re like, ‘Wow, he has a chance to do this.’ In the eighth and ninth, he had that look in his eye like, ‘I’m going to do this.’ “

In the ninth, Strasburg struck out Blair Roberts and Tytus Moss swinging to bring Nathan Carter to the plate and the crowd to its feet. Strasburg started Carter with a strike. Then a ball. Then strike two. Then Carter looked at a slider for strike three.

That set off a celebration.

SDSU catcher Erik Castro threw off his mask with his left hand and inexplicably tossed the ball away with his right (didn't he realize the College Baseball Hall of Fame was going to want the ball to put alongside the one it has from Strasburg's 23-strikeout game?), ran to the mound and picked up the pitcher.

“We didn’t really meet too great," said Castro. "He crushed my nose."

They were quickly joined by first baseman Brandon Meredith and the other infielders, then engulfed by Aztecs teammates from the dugout before the outfielders arrived to join in the group hug/dogpile/celebration.

“It was pretty intense," said Strasburg. "It got to where Brandon Meredith took the fall. I didn’t want to step on him. I was kind of holding him there and bracing for the guys jumping on my back. It’s a great experience. I’ve never really been in a dogpile like that in my life."


Stephen Strasburg — SDSU 5, Air Force 0 (May 8, 2009)

Jim Gibbs/Kevin Nielsen —SDSU 14, Air Force 0 (April 23, 1989)

Mike Erb —SDSU 7, Utah 1 (April 22, 1986)

Matt Giampaoli — SDSU 7, UC San Diego 0 (March 22, 1982)

Ron Dargo — SDSU 5, BYU 0 (March 28, 1966)

Bill Lefler — SDSU 6, BYU 0 (March 28, 1964)

Richard “Dixie” Walker —SDSU 18, Whittier 0 (March 6, 1954)

The opener of San Diego State's three-game Mountain West Conference series has been a sellout — including standing room only seats — since Monday and Aztecs officials expect the crowd to exceed the record 3,072 who showed up two weeks ago at Tony Gwynn Stadium.

And it isn't because Air Force is in town.

It's the final regular season home game for SDSU junior right-hander Stephen Strasburg, who comes into the game with a 10-0 record, 1.38 ERA, 147 strikeouts and 15 walks in 78.1 innings this season. The Falcons will send right-hander Casey Allen (1-2, 7.22 ERA) to the mound for his eighth start of the season.

SDSU (31-17, 10-8 MWC) can still finish in second place in conference if it sweeps Air Force (14-31, 3-12) this weekend and and follows that up next week with a sweep at Utah. The top two finishers in the regular season receive first-round byes in the MWC Tournament that is to be hosted by TCU.

SDSU right fielder Cory Vaughn comes into the series leading the Aztecs with 10 home runs and 44 RBI and batting .337. Teammates Erik Castro (.378, 7 HR, 39 RBI) and Brandon Meredith (.305, 5 HR, 37 RBI) aren't far behind.

This must be a big game. The SDSU band is here and cheerleaders are dancing on the Aztecs' dugout. I've been coming to baseball games here since 1981 and never seen either group in attendance before.

1ST INNING — Strasburg goes right to work, getting leadoff hitter Nathan Carter looking at strike three. Addison Gentry manages a groundout to second base before Matt Alexander also looks at strike three on a good offspeed pitch that ends the inning. Strasburg touches 100 mph with one pitch and hits 99 mph consistently, according to the radar gun SDSU has on him behind the plate. The Aztecs go out in order against Air Force starter Casey Allen in the bottom of the inning.

2ND INNING — Air Force's Ben Ausbun, Jon McMahon and Jack Lupo all get their cuts in against Strasburg, and all three go down swinging. The Aztecs don't all stike out, but they don't do anything against Allen either.

3RD INNING — K.J. Randhawa and Blaire Roberts both strike out swinging before Tytus Moss grounds out to second base. It is six straight strikeouts (seven overall) for Strasburg before Moss makes contact. Shadows from the covering over the west-side standings start creeping toward the mound, making pitches go from sun to shade to sun to shade. As if Strasburg needs any help in an inning when one pitch is clocked at 101 mph. Allen may not be as dominating as his SDSU counterpart, but the results are just as good before he hits Ryan O'Sullivan with a two-out pitch to give the game its first baserunner. O'Sullivan is erased a moment later when Allen picks him off first base.

4TH INNING — Strasburg allows his first baserunner when leadoff hitter Carter works the count to 3-1 and then takes a low fastball for ball 4. No worries. Gentry hit a fly ball to left field for the first out, Alexander strikes out swinging and then Carter is caught stealing — when he overslides second base. In the bottom of the inning, In the bottom of the inning, Meredith finally gets the game's first hit with a two-out single to left field off Allen. But Castro strikes out to end the inning.

5TH INNING — Ausbun opens the inning with a strikeout, then McMahon hits a fly ball to center field for the second out. Lupo then thinks, 'What the heck' and tries to drop a bunt down the first-base line. Meredith picks it up and waits for Lupo to run down the line and tag himself out. Jomel Torres hits a two-out double to right field and Easton Gust follows with an RBI single to left field to give Strasburg a run to work with.

6TH INNING — Strasburg issues another leadoff walk, losing Randhawa on a 3-1 pitch when he's low with a fastball. Roberts tries to bunt his teammate into scoring position, but misses on the first two pitches — both strikes — then pulls his bat back on a slider that catches the outside corner for strike three. Moss steps to the plate and strikes out on three pitches, making Gentry the sole survivor in the lineup. Gentry's groundout and flyout make him the only player who hasn't struck out against Strasburg, although his third at-bat looms in the seventh inning. Randhawa steals second base standing up, but Strasburg pays him no mind and strikes out Carter to end the inning. That's 12 strikeouts for the game, which ties Air Force's season high (against The Citadel) for the season.

In the bottom of the inning, Pat Colwell leads off with a walk, moves to second on an error, goes to third on a flyout and comes home on Castro's slow infield grounder that is thrown offtarget to second for another error. Mitch Blackburn singles home another run two batters later to make it 3-0.

NOTABLE: The PA announcer informs everyone that 3,337 have jammed into Tony Gwynn Stadium. It's the largest crowd ever, surpassing the 3,158 who showed up in 1998 when the Aztecs played the New York Yankees in an exhibition game.

7TH INNING — Gentry leads off and watches strike three whiz by, meaning everyone in the starting lineup has struck out at least once. By the way, Strasburg took a perfect game into the seventh inning last year at home against TCU. That was broken up with a leadoff double in the seventh. Strasburg finished with a one-hitter that night. It was one of two one-hitters and a two-hitter he threw last season. Strasburg gets through the seventh tonight with the no-hitter intact after getting Alexander on a tapper back to the mound before striking out Ausbun to end the inning. That's 14 strikeouts now for the game.

8TH INNING — McMahon leads off the inning with a soft chopper up the middle that Ryan O'Sullivan ranges behind second base to field and throw to first base for the first out. Lupo makes the second out on a soft liner to first base and then the inning ends when Randhawa grounds out to O'Sullivan at short. The Aztecs add two runs in the bottom of the inning to make it 5-0, but the crowd doesn't notice that as much as they do Strasburg running out to the mound for the start of the ninth. He gets a rousing ovation.

Air Force is hitless as Strasburg takes the mound in the ninth. SDSU has six no-hitters in school history, the last coming 20 years ago on a combined effort by Jim Gibbs and Kevin Nielsen in a 14-0 home win over Air Force. By the way, Air Force was no-hit in the season's second game against Kansas.

9TH INNING — With the crowd oohing and aaaahhing on every pitch, Strasburg goes 2-2 to Roberts, who then fouls off a pitch before swinging and missing at a fastball for the first out. Strasburg then starts Moss with a ball before getting two strikes on him and then another strikeout (Castro throwing to first for the putout). The crowd rises in unison for the final out. Strasburg starts Carter with a strike. Then a ball. Then a strike. Then strike three. Game over. No-hitter. Strasburg is mobbed by his teammates on the mound.

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