After all the pomp and circumstance, player introductions, color guard and National Anthem, announcement of last season’s award winners and ceremonial first pitch, there was actual baseball. And it was good.
Led by twin phenoms Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, the Washington Nationals beat their division rival and personal nemesis Miami Marlins 2-0 before a single-game, regular season record crowd of 45,274 at Nationals Park.
Not that the sellout crowd needed anything else to get them going after the rousing pre-game activities — including revealing a “NL East Division Champions” sign above the HD scoreboard – but the Nats extended the feel-good vibe by jumping out quickly, thanks to who else but Bryce Harper, who lined a 1-0 curveball from Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco into the seats in right field in his first at bat in the bottom of the first inning to give the Nats an early 1-0 lead.
Almost unbelievably, Harper struck again in the fourth. Working the count full, he finally measured Nolasco again and deposited at 3-2 slider into the same section as his first one, extending the Nats lead to 2-0.
The rest was Stephen Strasburg. The Nats ace had as easy a seven inning, 80-pitch appearance as one could have. He allowed a single to Marlins leadoff hitter Juan Pierre to start the game, then set down 19 in a row before allowing a one-out double to Giancarlo Stanton in the seventh. Placido Polanco followed that with a single to move Stanton over to Strasburg in a little hot water for the only time all day.
Strasburg got rookie catcher Rob Brantly to fly out to left field for the second out. Stanton bluffed off third while Harper fired a strike to Wilson Ramos at home on the fly. Polanco broke from first to try to draw a throw and got caught in a rundown. Stanton then broke for the plate and the Nats nabbed the burly slugger easily at home. The play went 7-2-3-4-2 to erase the Marlins only scoring chance against Strasburg all day.
Strasburg’s day was as efficient as it was dominating. He threw 80 pitches in seven innings, with 52 for strikes. He allowed just three hits — and no walks — striking out three. He got 10 ground ball outs and five fly outs in earning his — and his team’s — first win of the season.
Tyler Clippard, as he has done the last two seasons, pitched a scoreless eighth inning and new closer Rafael Soriano blew away the Marlins 1-2-3 hitters in the ninth to save his first game as a member of the Washington Nationals, including punching out Stanton to end the game.
The Nats are off on Tuesday as is customary at the beginning of the season. They’ll face these Marlins again Wednesday, with Gio Gonzalez set to face Kevin Slowey at 7:05 at Nats Park.