Slowey, then, could not be blamed for starting his fifth-inning encounter with Gonzalez with a 76-mph curveball — Gonzalez had seen only four first-pitch curves in his whole career. This curve hung, and Gonzalez, who bats right-handed even though he throws left, smashed it to left.
“Lucky swing,” Gonzalez said. “I think I closed my eyes.”
The crowd rose as the ball sliced through the chill, into the wind. In these conditions, off the bat of a pitcher swinging at a breaking ball, could it really clear the wall?
“LaRoche crushed a couple balls that didn’t go anywhere,” Mattheus said. “So you know Gio got it pretty good.”
The smash landed in the front row. Gonzalez glided around the bases, pursing his lips and glancing at the ground so as not to smile. He cracked once he crossed the plate and peered into the dugout. The crowd chanted, “Gi-O! Gi-O!” Harper had taken a curtain call opening day, and Game 2 brought Gonzalez’s chance. He emerged from the dugout and lifted his hand, still clutching one of his white batting gloves, into the air.
“Everybody is already talking about having to hear about it for the next two weeks,” LaRoche said.
The bullpen preserved the shutout. After he used Tyler Clippard as the eighth-inning setup man Monday, Johnson tabbed Drew Storen. Making his first appearance at Nationals Park since Game 5 of last year’s NLDS unraveled, Storen had an easy 1-2-3 inning, with an assist from Span’s outstanding catch on the warning track.
Those who braved the cold for all nine innings could watch as Span squeezed the final out. After only two games, the season has already taken on a delirious tone. The Nationals still have not allowed a run, let alone lost, and their free-swinging, ever-smiling ace cranked a home run.
“Hopefully he hits another one,” Storen said. “And he can talk all year about it.”