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Nationals 7, Red Sox 4

Nationals show off treasures

Strasburg, Harper too much for Sox in series opener

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / June 9, 2012
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In this, the 100th anniversary season of Fenway Park, the Red Sox played what amounted to a secondary role in the chapter of baseball history written on Friday night.

Two of the game’s burgeoning stars, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, added their names to the list of memorable performances that have taken place on Yawkey Way during a 7-4 victory by the Washington Nationals.

Strasburg struck out 13, the most for a visiting player in more than a decade. The Red Sox came away almost pleased that they scored two runs against the 23-year-old righthander and had a chance for more.

“He’s like looking at a rainbow. You don’t miss it,’’ manager Bobby Valentine said of Strasburg before the game. “It’s a rather beautiful sight. He gets that pitching thing very well.’’

The 19-year-old Harper is a hardball prodigy who made a pilgrimage to Fenway when he was 11. He returned as a rookie center fielder and went 3 for 5 with a double, a long home run, and three runs batted in.

Not since Robin Yount in 1976 had a player so young hit a home run at Fenway.

“It’s unbelievable,’’ Harper said. “I love those kinds of atmospheres. Having a great fan base like that, coming in and playing the Red Sox.’’

For the crowd of 37,309, it was the kind of game they’ll tell stories about in years to come, even though the Sox lost. It was the baseball version of seeing a young Bruce Springsteen at Harvard Square Theater in 1974.

“Two very impressive players,’’ said Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who hit his 200th career home run in the eighth inning.

Strasburg (7-1) allowed a two-run double by Mike Aviles in the second inning, then retired 11 straight, eight by strikeout.

His 13 strikeouts were the most by an opponent at Fenway since Mike Mussina of the Yankees fanned 13 in his near-perfect game on Sept. 2, 2001.

“He’s not just a thrower; he’s a pitcher. He had pitches he could throw behind in the count,’’ Valentine said. “His changeup was a real devastating pitch and his fastball was alive all night long. He’s special.’’

Down 7-2 in the sixth inning, Dustin Pedroia singled, Gonzalez doubled, and David Ortiz walked as the Sox loaded the bases with one out.

“Told myself that I have to make them beat me,’’ Strasburg said. “Just know that you have a five-run lead, keep trying to pitch to contact.’’

Jarrod Saltalamacchia fouled off two two-strike pitches before Strasburg struck him out with a curveball. Kevin Youkilis was next and he worked the count full before Strasburg struck him out looking at a low fastball.

Youkilis complained about the call to umpire Doug Eddings and was ejected for the fourth time in his career.

It was the final pitch for Strasburg, whose 119 pitches were his career high. He threw 75 strikes.

“Youk gave him a heck of an at-bat. He gets called out and the inning’s over. But I think that inning should have continued,’’ Valentine said. “Who knows, we might have tacked on three more, four more earned runs on [Strasburg]. That pitch was not a strike.’’

The Sox scored two runs against the Nationals bullpen, but never got the tying run to the plate.

Down 2-0 early, the Nationals struck back in the third inning against Felix Doubront, scoring three runs as they sent eight men to the plate.

Danny Espinosa walked with one out and went to third when Harper doubled to the gap in right field. Ryan Zimmerman’s single up the middle scored Espinosa.

Mike Morse walked before Doubront struck out Adam LaRoche for the second out. But the lefty could not limit the damage as Ian Desmond slammed a two-run double to right field.

It got worse in the fourth inning. Rookie Tyler Moore led off with a double and scored on a ground-rule double by Espinosa, the ball hopping into the Red Sox bullpen.

Harper then pounded a belt-high fastball to the deepest part of the park, the ball striking to the right of the 420-sign in center field.

Harper joined Hall of Famers Yount, Al Kaline, and Mickey Mantle as the only opposing players under the age of 20 to homer at Fenway.

Doubront (6-3) did not come back out for the fifth inning. The four innings were his fewest this season and the six earned runs his most.

“Felix was off, obviously. He wasn’t ahead of hitters. He pitched a little more tentatively than he had all year,’’ Valentine said.

Gonzalez was 2 for 5 and was robbed of a home run in the third inning by right fielder Xavier Nady, who made a terrific leaping catch at the short bullpen wall.

Gonzalez’s 200th home run came on a shot to center field.

“It feels good,’’ Gonzalez said. “But doing it on a night that we lost takes away a lot of pleasure from it.’’

It was the first victory in 10 games at Fenway for the Nationals, who were once the Montreal Expos.

“It’s awesome, it’s awesome to go out there like that and be successful,’’ Strasburg said.

Harper was equally ebullient.

“Going around the bases, Pedroia said, ‘Hey good job.’ I’m 19 years old. I still look at those guys as the guys that I grew up watching,’’ he said. “It’s pretty unbelievable seeing that, to be able to come in here and beat a good Red Sox team like that. It was good for us.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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