There’s something about Opening Day that fills a baseball fan with excitement, hope, and anticipation. But a game can also plague a fan with frustration, anger, and even physical symptoms like a headache and indigestion. Yesterday’s Nationals-Cubs game had everything in it – good pitching, decent hitting, a bad call from an umpire, an out at home plate, and a whipping wind that kept what would normally be a home run ball safe within the “friendly confines” of Wrigley Field. Luckily (and I mean “luckily”), the Nationals walked away with a 2-1 win behind some good (not stellar) pitching from Stephen Strasburg.
In the first inning, when the first two Nationals’ hitters got on base (shortstop Ian Desmond and second baseman Danny Espinosa), I was smiling to myself, thinking “Huh. Could all the hype be for real?” Then after two outs, Jayson “Werth-less” flew out and I felt deflated. Cubs’ starter Ryan Dempster actually ended up striking out 10 batters in 7 1/3 innings, and in my opinion pitched better than Strasburg. But considering “Stras” is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and was still able to reach 98mph with his fastball, I shouldn’t be too hard on him. He’s not going to strike out 15 in every game (especially with his pitch count so closely monitored). Yesterday he pitched fine.
So anyway, when Werth left the bases loaded in the third inning, I’d about had it. I thought “Here we go again, just like last year! It’s going to be a long 162-game season if this is how they’re going to play!” But after the game was tied in the seventh inning, it was a whole new ballgame. All-Star Tyler Clippard (who ended up getting the win) was his usual dependable self, Ian Desmond drove in a run in the top of the ninth, and new Nat Brad Lidge struck out Marlon Byrd with two outs in the ninth to earn his first save (after allowing a triple). And just so you all don’t think I’m a Werth-hater, I have to say that he did get the Nationals’ first RBI when Kerry Wood walked him with the bases loaded (a “run-walked-in,” I guess!).
In his post-game press conference, Nationals’ manager, Davey Johnson said “If you didn’t like that ballgame, you don’t like baseball.” Boy, was he right! I’ve never seen an Opening Day game that felt like a it had playoff implications. All the players were pumped up and playing hard, the crowd was reacting to every pitch, and the winning team celebrated almost as hard as if they’d won the World Series. Let’s just hope the Nationals can keep up their momentum, especially until their home opener next Thursday against the Cincinnati Reds.