After Strasburg allowed one run over seven dominant innings, the Nationals rallied to beat the Chicago Cubs, 2-1, by scoring one run in the eighth and another in the ninth. The Nationals tied the score when Jayson Werth drew a walk off Kerry Wood with the bases loaded in the eighth, and they took the lead in the ninth when Ian Desmond, who produced three of the Nationals’ four hits, smacked an RBI single to right. They held on only after Ryan Zimmerman threw out a runner at the plate in the ninth, allowing Brad Lidge to record a save in his first Nationals appearance.
These Nationals may be leaving behind their dismal past, but for one day they maintained their uncanny knack for making things hard on themselves. They needed a double by Chad Tracy, a pinch hitter who played in Japan last season, to spark their game-winning rally. And they needed to overcome an offense that went 26 consecutive batters without a hit. But they left opening day smiling, no one more than Strasburg.
“That’s what baseball is all about,” Strasburg said. “As a player, you want to be put in those situations. Watching from the dugout, you almost feel like you’re in the box there with them.”
Strasburg matched the longest outing of his career, mowing through seven innings with only 82 pitches. He allowed five hits, all singles, only three of which left the infield, and struck out five. He threw 95 mph fastballs that bored in on hitters’ cold hands and curveballs that had them ducking out of the way. After he broke Ryan Dempster’s bat for the second time, Dempster walked up to him and said, “Another one? Are you kidding me?”
Strasburg yielded his only run in the fourth inning, when Marlon Byrd hooked an RBI single to left. He faced the minimum number of batters from there, striking out four of the next six he faced, including Starlin Castro on a 98 mph heater in the sixth, the fastest pitch he threw all game.
“He’s got that fastball that gets on you,” Desmond said. “You can’t take anything for granted. And then he throws that curveball, it’s kind of unfair. There’s no doubt about it. He’s an ace.”
During batting practice, pitching coach Steve McCatty chatted with Strasburg. He wanted him to control his emotions. It was his first opening day start, McCatty reminded him, but it would not be the last. “Don’t get too excited,” McCatty said. “There are probably going to be a lot of ’em.”
“He can take a deep breath now,” Lidge said. “He knows that he doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody.”