The Royals were suitably impressed by the Washington Nationals' pitching prodigy but still dealt Strasburg his first loss, 1-0, as 31,913 fans sweated out a tense battle in the 93-degree late-afternoon heat on Wednesday.
- 134 wins
- 118 wins
It was Brian Bannister with the victory that ended the Royals' five-game Interleague losing streak. And it was Jose Guillen with his hot bat and strong arm that sealed the deal.
This was the first series the Royals ever played against the Nationals, and they might not confront Strasburg again soon, if ever.
"I don't care if we ever face him again," Royals manager Ned Yost said, grinning. "We gave him his first loss, which I can tell my grandkids 10 years down the road."
Strasburg made an instant impression on the Royals: two quick strikes, a foul back, a waste pitch in the dirt and a 97-mph fastball zooming past Scott Podsednik's swing.
"All of his pitches are plus pitches. He runs it up there at 96, he's got a real good breaking ball and his changeup has to be probably one of the best in the game," Podsednik said.
When Strasburg struck out Podsednik looking on a changeup in the sixth, he had nine strikeouts and 41 in his rookie season. The 41 established a Major League record for the most whiffs in a pitcher's first four games, passing Herb Score's 40 for Cleveland in 1955.
"He's setting history right now, and I think it's great," Bannister said. "I've never been a guy with that kind of God-given ability, and I can appreciate it because I know how hard I've had to work at the game to even be average."
The Royals pushed over the game's only run after two were out in the fifth inning. David DeJesus singled and so did Billy Butler, who had already fanned twice against Strasburg. Up came Guillen, who in the second inning had extended his hitting streak to 18 games with the first hit off Strasburg.
This time Strasburg fired a 96-mph fastball toward catcher Ivan Rodriguez.
"I tried to elevate the ball instead of just trusting it and throwing it to Pudge's glove," Strasburg said. "I kind of pushed it a little bit, and it ended up causing me to do the opposite. It wasn't a bad pitch, but he was on it."
Guillen drove the 0-2 pitch just over second baseman Adam Kennedy's glove, and DeJesus eased across the plate.
"He pitched great. He made a few mistakes -- one to me with a guy on third and he threw me a fastball down the middle," Guillen said. "It doesn't matter how hard you throw, if you don't locate the ball real well, you're going to get hit, and fortunately he just left that one up."
The flurry ended there, as Alberto Callaspo's liner was caught by a sprawling Roger Bernadina in right field.
That was the only damage inflicted on Strasburg, who completed six innings and gave up nine hits, all singles. He walked no one, for the third time in his four starts, and of his 95 pitches, 75 were strikes.
Bannister, bouncing back after two poor starts, made a great escape in the fifth after the Nationals' Josh Willingham walked and Rodriguez singled him to third with no outs.
Ian Desmond hit a bouncer to Butler, who was pulled in at first base. Here Butler's plans went awry, but, in the end, to good effect. Instead of fielding the ball cleanly, he knocked it down.
"If I fielded it clean, I was going to turn two," Butler said. "Obviously, in that situation, we're willing to give up the run to turn the double play. But it took a tough hop, and it stayed in front of me."
So the double play was out, Butler looked Willingham back to third base and tagged out Desmond. Willingham stayed at third as Bannister fanned Kennedy and retired Strasburg on a grounder.
Oddly enough, Strasburg had singled in his previous at-bat in the third inning, his first big league hit. Second-base umpire Jerry Layne secured the ball as a memento for the rookie pitcher.
"I gave up his first hit and I know the second-base umpire grabbed the ball and I was going to ask for it because I had as much to do with it as he did," Bannister said with a smile.
Bannister's next escape came in the sixth, with one out and runners at first and base. Adam Dunn singled to right, and Bernadina, fleeing second base, headed for home. Guillen scooped up the ball.
"Jose has had one of the best arms in baseball for a long time, and when he gets the ball, you're really going to see a cannon explode," Bannister said.
Guillen's throw brought catcher Jason Kendall up the first-base line just a bit. But Kendall caught the ball and whirled, tagging Bernadina out as he slid across the plate.
"It was just boom, boom. So I just had to find the plate and put my glove down," Kendall said.
Bernadina thought he was in ahead of the tag.
"We could have tied the game, and it would have probably be a different game," Bernadina said. "I [was shocked] because you want to score on that moment. He called me out. I didn't ask the umpire much about it. I asked him if I beat it out. He said, 'No,' and I went back in the dugout."
Bannister struck out Willingham to end the sixth, and that was his last inning. He'd shut down the Nationals after suffering through two dismal starts that ended his personal five-start winning streak.
"Banny was phenomenal today -- he really was," Yost said.
Robinson Tejeda took over and reeled off two shutout innings. Then out of the bullpen came Joakim Soria for the first time in six games. Rusty? Nope -- he pitched a perfect ninth with two strikeouts for his 17th save.
"It was great to get out there," Soria said. "I've been working hard on the days I don't pitch, and I felt very good."
So did the Royals after being the first team to beat the ballyhooed Strasburg.
"Everybody's been talking about him like he was a Hall of Famer," Guillen said. "That's the way people have been talking about him, but I realized today that kid's pretty good and he's going to be special."
Yost, in the glow of victory, was asked if he could reveal what plan of attack the Royals used against the phenom.
"Well, we don't want the league to beat up on him," Yost said wryly. "We'll just keep that to ourselves."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.