The sellout crowd that poured through the Nationals Park gates for the home opener may have expected any number of heroes to emerge, but they probably did not guess Craig Stammen.
Gio Gonzalez dominated for seven innings, Adam LaRoche smoked a clutch, two-run single and Ryan Zimmerman atoned for a crummy day with by scoring the game-winning run. Stammen, under the radar, may have contributed the most impressive performance in the Nationals’ 3-2 win over the Reds.
After the calamitous ninth inning, the Nationals called on Stammen to stabilize the game, keep it tied heading into the bottom of the 10th. Stammen did more than that. He struck out the side on 10 pitches, throwing one ball while inducing two swinging strikes. He didn’t even expect himself to enter the game, but when he did, he dominated.
“I got to sneak a win out of it,” Stammen said. “I was a little excited about it. It was fun. I had really good stuff today. I felt good. I was throwing the ball pretty much wherever I wanted. Some days, you have that. That’s life in the bullpen. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Stammen entered the game at a dicey moment. The Nationals had blown a two-run lead in the top of the ninth and squandered a bases-loaded chance in the bottom of the inning. Watching from the bullpen. Stammen’s emotions ebbed like a fan’s.
You can’t take it to the mound,” Stammen said. “You’ve got to use it to your advantage. There was a little heightened sense of focus, because I knew the momentum had kind of shifted a little bit. I knew if I didn’t have my best stuff, the Reds were going to jump all over me.”
From the first pitch, Stammen jumped on the Reds. He struck out Willie Harris on three pitches, a fastball, a curve and a slider. Drew Stubbs went down swinging at a curveball, too. Stammen jumped ahead of Zach Cozart, then tried to finish him off with a curve in the dirt. “It was a good one, too,” Stammen said, laughing. But Cozart laid off, and so Stammen beamed a 91-mph sinker past him with the next pitch.
Stammen had earned his opening day win. Two weeks ago, when it looked like Stammen would not make the roster?
“I would have been your last guess,” Stammen said.
FROM THE POST
The Nationals won their home opener 3-2 after Ryan Zimmerman redeemed one of his worst days by scoring on a walk-off wild pitch.
James Wagner writes that Wilson Ramos had looked forward to the ovation he received at the home opener as a sign of closure.
FROM THE JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Lehigh Valley 5, Syracuse 4: Byrce Harper went 0 for 4 with a strikeout. Against lefties, he is 1 for 12 with a walk and five strikeouts. Tyler Moore went 2 for 4 with two home runs. Rick Ankiel went 1 for 3. Yunesky Maya allowed five runs in four innings on three hits and two walks.
Reading 4, Harrisburg 1: Eury Perez went 1 for 3. Jeff Mandel allowed two runs in six innings on three hits and two walks, striking out five.
Myrtle Beach 1, Potomac 0: Michael Taylor went 1 for 4 with a double. Kyle Winters allowed no runs in six innings on three hits and no walks, striking out seven.
Lakewood 8, Hagerstown 1: Alex Meyer allowed five runs in 2/3 of an inning on three hits and two walks, striking out two. Jason Martinson went 1 for 4 with a walk.