WASHINGTON - The mother of all baseball hype ended Tuesday night at Nationals Park when Stephen Strasburg's big-league career began in front of a rare capacity crowd in the nation's capital.

The 21-year-old righthander made a rapid ascent through the Washington Nationals' minor-league system this spring, and he was every bit as good as advertised.

Throwing a fastball that topped out in triple digits on the radar gun, a curveball that buckled knees and induced hideous swings, and a 91-m.p.h. change-up – yes, a 91-m.p.h. change-up - Strasburg dominated the Pittsburgh Pirates for seven innings and earned a 5-2 victory.

Strasburg set a Nationals record with 14 strikeouts, one shy of the record for a big-league debut shared by the Brooklyn Dodgers' Karl Spooner (1954) and Houston's J.R. Richard (1971).

Strasburg finished his outing with seven consecutive strikeouts - tying a Nationals record - and received one final standing ovation when he poked his head out of the dugout and tipped his red cap at the end of the seventh inning after being lifted for a pinch-hitter.

"With everything that was on him the last few days and really the last few months, for him to respond that way, it was just a great night for baseball in Washington," Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said.

The only hiccup during Strasburg's outing came in the fourth inning, when he allowed three of his four hits, including a two-run home run by Delwyn Young on a 1-0 change-up that gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead. Catcher Ivan Rodriguez blamed himself for that blemish, saying he should have stuck with Strasburg's electric fastball.

Rodriguez, a 19-year veteran and 14-time all-star, seemed as amazed as everyone else in the ballpark by Strasburg's composure and dominance.

"This kid is unbelievable," Rodriguez said. "The most amazing thing is he's around the plate and he throws strikes. He's always in the strike zone."

Consecutive home runs by Washington's Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham in the sixth inning erased Pittsburgh's lead and allowed Strasburg to earn the victory.

After the home run by Young, Strasburg retired the final 10 batters he faced, including eight by strikeout. He finished his electrifying performance with two straight three-pitch strikeouts, sitting down Young and Andy LaRoche on 99-m.p.h. fastballs.

Even though he made it look easy, it was all a blur for Strasburg afterward.

"The only thing I really remember was the first pitch - it was a ball inside," Strasburg said. "At one point, I forgot how many innings I had thrown and I said, 'You know what? I'm just going to go out there and have fun.' It's kind of like getting married. You want to remember everything, and then once it's done you can't remember a single thing."

Strasburg had thrown only 94 pitches - 65 for strikes - but manager Jim Riggleman and the Nationals plan to treat last year's No. 1 overall draft pick carefully this season. Riggleman had said before the game that Strasburg would not pitch more than six innings.

"He was in that in-between area," Riggleman said. "I wanted him to go around 90 pitches, and he had 81 [after six innings]. It was unlikely he was going to get through the seventh, but then he got the first two hitters relatively quick and I was hoping he'd keep it below 95."

After Strasburg finished the first inning with an overpowering three-pitch strikeout of Lastings Milledge, the Nationals immediately flashed on their scoreboard that Stephen Strasburg merchandise was available at the ballpark. That wasn't breaking news in a place where Strasburg's No. 37 already has become the best-seller.

Milledge, who whiffed again in the seventh, is a believer in Strasburg.

"I tip my cap to him," he said. "He had great, great location. I wanted to attack his fastball, but he never gave us anything to drive. There was nothing he gave me I could hit. He is much different than any pitcher I ever faced."

Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.

Pittsburgh 000 200 000 – 2 5 0

Washington 100 003 01x – 5 11 0

Pittsburgh AB   R   H   BI   Avg.      Washington AB   R   H   BI   Avg.   

A.McCutchen cf 4   0   0   0   .306      C.Guzman 2b 4   0   1   0   .311

N.Walker 2b 4   1   1   0   .320      Morgan cf 4   0   1   0   .258

Milledge lf 4   0   1   0   .246      Zimmerman 3b 4   3   3   1   .316

G.Jones 1b 4   0   0   0   .256      A.Dunn 1b 4   1   3   2   .280

Delw.Young rf 3   1   1   2   .241      1-Kennedypr1b 0   0   0   0   .243

An.LaRoche 3b 3   0   1   0   .244      Willingham lf 3   1   1   1   .278

Cedeno ss 3   0   1   0   .242      I.Rodriguez c 4   0   2   0   .331

Jaramillo c 3   0   0   0   .182      Bernadina rf 4   0   0   0   .250

Karstens p 2   0   0   0   .182      Desmond ss 3   0   0   0   .273

Meek p 0   0   0   0   ---      Strasburg p 2   0   0   0   .000

b-Church ph 1   0   0   0   .200      a-W.Harris ph 1   0   0   0   .180

Ja.Lopez p 0   0   0   0   .000      Clippard p 0   0   0   0   1.00

Totals 31   2   5   2         Capps p 0   0   0   0   .000

Totals 33   5   11   4      

a-struck out for Strasburg in the 7th. b-struck out for Meek in the 8th.1-ran for A.Dunn in the 8th. LOB: Pittsburgh 2, Washington 5. 2B: C.Guzman (10), I.Rodriguez (10). HR: Delw.Young (3), off Strasburg; Zimmerman (12), off Karstens; A.Dunn (11), off Karstens; Willingham (11), off Karstens. RBIs: Delw.Young 2 (13), Zimmerman (33), A.Dunn 2 (30), Willingham (38). SB: Cedeno (6). RLSP: Pittsburgh 1 (A.McCutchen); Washington 3 (Desmond, Morgan, Bernadina). RA: Bernadina. GIDP: G.Jones, I.Rodriguez. DP: Pittsburgh 2 (Milledge, Milledge, Jaramillo), (N.Walker, G.Jones); Washington 1 (Desmond, C.Guzman, A.Dunn).

Washington walks (1): Willingham.

Pittsburgh strikeouts (17): A.McCutchen, N.Walker 2, Milledge 2, G.Jones 2, Delw.Young 2, An.LaRoche, Cedeno 2, Jaramillo 2, Karstens 2, Church.

Washington strikeouts (1): W.Harris.

Pittsburgh IP   H   R   ER   BB   SO   NP   ERA   

Karstens (L 1-2) 5   9   4   4   0   0   72   4.81

Meek 2   0   0   0   0   1   22   0.78

Ja.Lopez 1   2   1   1   1   0   10   1.96

Washington IP   H   R   ER   BB   SO   NP   ERA   

Strasburg (W 1-0) 7   4   2   2   0   14   94   2.57

Clippard (H 13) 1   1   0   0   0   2   16   1.62

Capps (S 19-23) 1   0   0   0   0   1   10   3.49

Karstens pitched to 3 batters in the 6th. Umpires: Home, Tom Hallion; First, Ron Kulpa; Second, Lance Barksdale; Third, Ed Rapuano.

T: 2:19. A: 40,315.