Strasburg's next start helps Indians

CLEVELAND -- Strasburgmania has hit the road.

With rookie sensation Stephen Strasburg set to make his second major league start in Cleveland, the Indians, ranked last overall in attendance, have experienced a surge in ticket sales for Sunday's game against the 21-year-old, who struck out 14 in his dazzling debut.

The Washington Nationals confirmed Wednesday that Strasburg will start Sunday at Progressive Field. On Tuesday, he dominated the Pittsburgh Pirates for seven innings in a 5-2 win before a standing-room-only crowd of 40,315 in the nation's capital.

His appearance is giving a needed attendance bump to the Indians, who are in last place in the AL Central and averaging only 15,527 fans at home game.

An Indians spokesman said the club had sold 4,000 tickets since last week, when it appeared Strasburg would face Cleveland in his second game. The Indians have sold another 1,000 tickets in the past 24 hours.

Strasburg's stop in Cleveland is expected to draw the Indians' second-largest crowd this season, along with 91-year-old Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller, whose entrance into the majors as a 17-year-old in 1936 created a similar national stir.

Feller didn't seem overly excited to see Strasburg.

"Is he excited to see me? No," Feller said. "I'll be here. If he can throw 105 mph, I'll tell him to throw his changeup at 102."

The Indians, who once had 455 consecutive home sellouts, were sold out only on Opening Day this season. Their second-biggest crowd was 25,531 in the 43,000-seat ballpark.

"It's creating a fan buzz around baseball," Indians spokesman Bob DiBiasio said, adding the team will provide a further update on ticket sales later. "It's something we're excited about, to be able to play host to the young man's first road start."

Strasburg's 14 strikeouts are the most in a major league debut since J.R. Richard fanned 15 for the Houston Astros in 1971.

"He's good for baseball, very good for the game. As long as they keep him over in that league," DiBiasio joked. "I'm sure there will be a lot of added interest, as there should be. It's very exciting. You haven't seen that kind of electricity in a while. That was fun to watch."

Indians manager Manny Acta noted the coincidence that Strasburg's debut will come in Cleveland. Acta spent 2½ seasons with the Nationals before he was fired last July.

"The kid is special and I hope he stays healthy so he can accomplish a lot," Acta said. "It's good for their franchise. Those fans deserve something. All he has to do is stay healthy. He's gifted. I just wish him health."

Indians closer Kerry Wood can appreciate Strasburg's quick rise to celebrity. Wood struck out 20 batters in just his fifth major league start.

"My first start was nowhere near what he did," said Wood, who debuted at 20 for the Chicago Cubs in 1998. "I watched the highlights of what he did and it brought back memories."

Wood was asked what advice he would give baseball's new phenom.

"Try and block it [hype] out and go out and pitch," Wood said. "He looks like he is very poised. He throws hard but throws it free and easy and has a good curve, too. I was hoping he would do well because it is so good for the game, for that team, for that city."

Before the game, the National Baseball Hall of Fame had not asked for any items from Strasburg's first outing. But after the game, the Hall of Fame made an open-ended request for an item from the game.

Strasburg's debut also produced record ratings for MASN, the cable network that carries the Nationals' games.

The network said preliminary Nielsen ratings show the game earned a record-high 7.1 household rating among more than 165,000 households in the Washington region.

"For a Tuesday night in June against the Pirates, these ratings are simply stunning," MASN spokesman Todd Webster said.

The Nationals have struggled to draw television fans since the franchise moved to Washington in 2005. Games averaged a meager 8,000 households just two years ago -- the fewest by far for any team in the majors.

MASN says Nationals ratings are up 66 percent so far this year.

The network said its previous high ratings mark was set in 2007, when Barry Bonds broke Henry Aaron's career home run record against the Nationals.

Information from ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney and The Associated Press was used in this report.