BOSTON -- Stephen Strasburg was the story coming in, and he was the story coming out of Friday night's game at Fenway Park, in which the Red Sox lost 7-4 to the Washington Nationals.
The 23-year-old righty stuck out 13 batters in six innings, while allowing two runs in six innings, picking up his seventh win in the process.
"Seeing him for the first time, our hitters battled him," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine after the loss. "He threw a lot of pitches in six innings, for sure. But, like they were saying, he's not just a thrower, he's a pitcher. He had pitches he could throw behind in the count. His split-changeup was a really devastating pitch. We haven't seen that before. His fastball was alive all night long. He's special. He's a very good pitcher, obviously."
As special as Strasburg is, and was on Friday night, Valentine could do nothing but praise his offense afterwards.
"This was a good offensive performance by our team. I know we came up short, but this was a battling performance for us. We're in the ninth inning, we had a couple runs taken away from us. We were still battling at the end there.
"There was no letdown, and the guys didn't get discouraged. I thought there was one good at-bat after another."
The Red Sox fell behind 7-2 after originally taking a 2-0 lead in the second inning on a two-run double by Mike Aviles. And after putting up two more runs against Washington's bullpen in the eighth and ninth innings to cut it down to a three-run game, Valentine would have liked to have one specific pitch back -- a called strike on Kevin Youkilis that ended the sixth inning with the bases loaded.
A worn down Strasburg had thrown 113 pitches and loaded the bases with one out on a Dustin Pedroia single, an Adrian Gonzalez double, and a David Ortiz walk. Strasburg then struck out Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and ended the inning -- and his night -- by punching out Youkilis with a 3-2 fastball that appeared low, forcing Youkilis to lose his cool and get ejected.
"I think that inning should have continued," said Valentine after the loss. "Who knows, we could have tacked on three more, four more runs on this thing.
"That pitch was not a strike."
The other run that was taken away from the Red Sox came earlier, in the third inning, when Nationals right fielder Xavier Nady leaned over into Washington's bullpen and robbed Adrian Gonzalez of a solo home run.
The out was in the midst of a stretch in which Strasburg retired 11 consecutive batters after allowing the two-run double to Aviles in the second inning.
"He's got good stuff," said Gonzalez afterwards. "We knew what we were expecting. We've seen enough of it on TV and on video, so we know what we were going up against. I thought we did a good job. But he was the better man out there."
Still, the Red Sox seemed pleased with the way they battled him.
"He's good, he's got good stuff," said Saltalamacchia. "His fastball, throwing it as hard as he does on both sides of the plate. He's got a good, sharp curve ball. He throws his changeup at any time. It's definitely not a comfortable at-bat. We definitely made him throw some pitches though. We just couldn't come back from that many runs."
And perhaps Gonzalez said it best, when wondering -- out loud -- what could have been, had Youkilis not been called out on strikes with bases loaded in the sixth.
"We were one pitch away from making that game interesting."
On Friday night, that one pitch went to Strasburg.