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The bigger Stephen Strasburg’s legend grows, the longer Nick McCoy’s home run will have soared with time.
At least that’s the way it would be for most walk-on athletes who hit a 390-foot home run off San Diego State’s All-American pitcher and Olympic bronze medalist on a day Strasburg struck out 18 batters in a 5-3 SDSU win Thursday over USD.
But the reactions of McCoy, a junior walk-on from Westview High, and Strasburg, a junior right-hander from West Highs High projected as the No. 1 pick of the 2009 amateur draft, were interesting insight into how two athletes at opposite ends of the college talent spectrum have pushed themselves to get the most out of their abilities.
McCoy didn’t earn a starting job as a catcher for the No. 11-ranked college team in the nation by being in awe. He’s a scrappy no-nonsense attitude guy that plays for the love of the game and competition.
“The bottom line is we lost the game,” McCoy said.
That might sound fine coming from one of USD’s All-American candidates, but this was McCoy’s first career home run. He is valued for his defense, his ability to handle pitchers and was hitting only .111 when he connected.
Finally, with some coaxing, McCoy admitted it felt special “to get a home off a big-time guy like that.”
On the other side of the field, Strasburg grudgingly admitted he gave up what was only the second home run of his career, now in its third college season. In a 3-0 start to the season, he’s struck out 45 batters in 20 innings with a 3-0 record in 3-0 starts.
“He ran his bat in front of it, but that’s part of the game,” Strasburg said. “I left it over the plate.”
Strasburg might have been a little more generous with his praise, but he didn’t get to where he is today — developing himself into a pitcher as opposed to a thrower — by overlooking the little things.
It would be easy for Strasburg to rely on his 100 mph fastball, but he’s learned how to throw strikes and keep hitters off balance with curveballs and a change-of-pace. In addition to 18 strikeouts, he allowed only one walk.
In fact, it wasn’t the Cunningham Stadium record of 16 strikeouts that he broke Thursday with his 18 Ks that impressed him. It was the identity of the record-holder — former USD All-American pitcher Brian Matusz, who was the fourth pick of the 2008 amateur draft by the Baltimore Orioles.
“Matusz was a great pitcher,” Strasburg said. “I look up to him. He has a lot of the qualities I hope to have.”