It was a cold, windy day in Chicago, the perfect recipe for a pitcher’s duel and Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Dempster did not disappoint. Fortunately for the Washington Nationals, the Cubs relief pitchers did not live up to Dempster’s performance, as the Nats picked up single runs in the eighth and ninth innings to defeat the Cubs 2-1, before a capacity crowd at Wrigley Field.
Ian Desmond was the hero in this one for the Nats, going 3-for-5, scoring the first Nats run and driving in the winner.
The deciding run came across with two outs in the ninth, as Desmond singled to right field following pinch-hitter Chad Tracy’s double to deep right field off Cubs closer Carlos Marmol (0-1).
In the bottom half, Cubs pinch-hitter Ian Stewart tripled into that same right field corner with one out off temporary closer Brad Lidge, but Ryan Zimmerman snared Jeff Baker’s ground ball and fired to Wilson Ramos blocking the plate at home to squelch the rally. Lidge (S, 1) came back to strike out Marlon Byrd to save the win for Tyler Clippard (1-0), who threw a perfect eighth inning.
Strasburg, making his first Opening Day start, was very strong in his initial offering. He went seven innings, allowing one run on five hits and a walk, striking out five. Dempster did him one better, going 7 2/3 innings, allowing just two Nationals hits, striking 10 and walking three. Desmond led off the game with a base hit and Dempster didn’t allow another until Desmond’s single in the eighth inning.
The Nats had golden opportunities in both the first and third innings against Dempster, though. Washington had two runners on with no outs in the first, but the heart of the order then went 1-2-3. Then, in the third with one out, Desmond and Espinosa both reached again, only to be left stranded when Adam LaRoche struck out and Jayson Werth flied out to right.
But the Nats reached paydirt, finally, in the eighth. Desmond (3-for-5, run, RBI, SB) singled past Cubs first baseman Jeff Baker and stole second. After Dempster got Danny Espinosa to strike out for the second out, Cubs manager Dale Sveum went for reliever Kerry Wood. Wood was not sharp, walking three straight batters — the last of whom being Jayson Werth — to force in the tying run.
THE GOOD: Stephen Strasburg. How can you not be enthused by the big right hander’s first start? Stuck with fastballs mostly in the first couple of innings in the upper 40’s chill, but once he warmed up he mixed in changes and curves, picking up strikeouts along the way. You’ll take his numbers every single time out. His performance illustrates how silly it is to judge starting pitchers by the “win” category.
Ian Desmond. The leadoff hitter was a table-setter all day and came through late in the game when the Nats needed it.
THE BAD: Wrigley Field official scorer. There were several occasions where the official scorer made a confusing ruling, sometimes to later correct the call, sometimes not. Maybe someone needed a few more Spring Training games.
THE UGLY: Adam LaRoche. Until his walk in the eighth to extend the inning for Jayson Werth. LaRoche had gone down swinging three straight, looking downright ugly at times. He certainly looked like a guy that only got 22 at bats during spring training.
THE STATS: Four hits, six walks, 10 Ks. 1-for-7 with RISP, nine LOB. One error (Espinosa, 1).
NEXT GAME: Saturday v. Cubs at 1:05 pm. Gio Gonzalez (16-12, 3.11, 1.31 in ’11 for OAK) v. Matt Garza (10-10, 3.32, 1.257 for CHC).