Dempster struck out the next batter he faced, Danny Espinosa, giving him 10 in 72
3 innings. He had thrown 108 pitches, and Cubs Manager Dale Sveum, in his first game with the Cubs, decided that was enough. He summoned Wood to face Zimmerman.
After Desmond stole second, Wood walked Zimmerman. Up came Adam LaRoche, who had struck out three times in three at-bats, twice with two men in scoring position. “I just couldn’t pick up the ball,” LaRoche said. He evened the count at 2-2 and told himself not to try to do too much, as he had earlier. He fouled off three straight pitches to stay alive, then took two balls to load the bases.
Werth, the high-priced free agent trying to prove last year was a fluke, walked to the plate 0 for 3, having stranded five runners. In seven at-bats against Wood, he had struck out four times and never reached base. He looked at strike one and then got the slider he wanted, but he fouled it away.
Promptly, in the biggest moment of the game, Werth had fallen behind, 0-2. But he trusts his batting eye, and he took a close pitch 0-2. Wood was rattled. He almost hit Werth with the 2-2 pitch. Werth took a ball at his ankles to force in the run.
“The last pitch came out of his hand funny,” Werth said. “So that made that easy.”
The Nationals managed another improbable rally with two outs in the ninth. Tracy, one of the last players to make the roster, smoked a double to right field off Carlos Marmol. Desmond walked to the plate, already with two hits. He expected a slider, focusing on staying on top of the ball.
“Hitting the ball in the air today was pretty useless,” Desmond said. “I just wanted to hit the hardest groundball I could.”
Desmond took a fastball, then got his slider and lined it into right field. Pinch runner Brett Carroll sprinted home, without a throw. The Nationals’ dugout exploded.
“If you don’t like that ballgame, you don’t like baseball,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “Every pitch meant something.”
“It seemed like a playoff game,” LaRoche said.
After Lidge survived the ninth, the Nationals lined up and shook hands in shallow right field, celebrating a hard-earned victory, the first of many, they believe. “A lot can happen,” Strasburg said. “It’s Game 1 of 162-plus games.”
The Nationals have never considered playing past 162 before. But then, they had not sent a pitcher to the mound on opening day like Strasburg, the kind of pitcher who makes the hope of opening day seem so very real.