"[Cain] took a load off me so I didn't have to burn myself too much," Gonzalez said. "There you go, throw a couple pitches, and get ready and go out there."
By the time Strasburg took the mound, a 5-0 NL lead had turned into an 8-0 cushion, and the righty kept the lead intact. He didn't do it in typical fashion, allowing a hit and a walk and not striking out anyone. Instead, Strasburg got some very nice help from his defense, as Rafael Furcal and Dan Uggla turned a sweet double play, and Ryan Braun made a very nice catch on Prince Fielder's liner to left.
Strasburg explained that his teammates' two-out rally also increased his degree of difficulty. For many starters, it's a challenge adjusting to the different stretching and preparing routine that comes with pitching in relief.
"We got two quick outs and I started to panic a little, because I hadn't stretched yet," he said. "Kind of started firing them in there, and then we got a couple hits and scored a run. So I was like, all right, now I've got to sit down."
Then again, he was facing as dangerous a run of hitters as you could possibly come up with in 2012, so dominance would have been expecting a bit much. Robinson Cano, Josh Hamilton, Jose Bautista and Prince Fielder, three lefties and a right-hander, entered the game with a combined 89 first-half home runs.
"It was pretty cool getting to face the three best left-handed hitters in the American League," Strasburg said.
Nats fans didn't have to wait long for their third young hero, Harper, to get in the game. He pinch-hit for Carlos Beltran against the tough Jered Weaver in the fifth inning, finishing the game in left field.
Harper did reasonably well at the plate, drawing a walk in two plate appearances, but managed his share of adventure as well. After his walk, he advanced to second on a medium-depth fly ball to left, but was caught in a rundown on Pablo Sandoval's grounder back to Weaver. Harper took the mishap in stride.
"There's nothing you can do about it," he said. "It happens. I wasn't really bummed out or anything. It's probably going to happen 40 more times in my career, so whatever."
The play, or the fly ball he lost in the lights in the fifth inning, seemed to be about the last thing on Harper's mind as he spoke with reporters after the game. He reveled in playing with retiring future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones, as well as with his Washington teammates.
"It was fun to come out here and compete with the best players in baseball," he said. "I had a blast. To be able to share it with my family and to be able to be out here was a blessing."
A fourth National, Ian Desmond, was named to the team but did not participate in the game due to injury. He was missed, all three players said, but there was plenty to occupy them over the two days in Kansas City.
"It's great," Strasburg said. "Just being around all these great players and watching everybody go out there and compete, seeing what the American League has to offer, it's a really fun time. Hopefully I'll be able to do it again sometime."