Why not? The Nationals’ madcap opening weekend continued Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field with a 7-4 victory over the Chicago Cubs and their flammable bullpen. The Nationals again entered the final innings with a deficit and a dead offense, and again they won.
The Nationals trailed 4-2 in the eighth inning, with two outs and two strikes on Danny Espinosa. Then eight consecutive Nationals hitters reached base, a five-run rally ignited by Espinosa’s solo home run off Kerry Wood, keyed by Tracy’s bases-loaded, two-run, go-ahead single off Carlos Marmol. The comeback bailed out Gio Gonzalez after he allowed four runs in 32
3 laborious innings.
“These guys are making me work too hard,” Manager Davey Johnson said, walking down the tunnel back to his office. While Espinosa insisted the Nationals could not rely on late-inning surges, some of Johnson’s players planned to keep making it hard on him.
“We kind of like this,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “We perfected it at times last year. So just keep it going.”
Tracy was not the only hero, not even close. After LaRoche struck out three times Thursday in the Nationals’ 2-1 season-opening win, his 9-year-old son, Drake, asked him, “Dad, what were you doing today?” Saturday, LaRoche had his best game as a National, going 4 for 5 with a two-run homer, his first since last April.
The Nationals’ bullpen fired 51
3 scoreless, one-hit innings, allowing the offense time to rally. Craig Stammen relieved Gonzalez, escaped a jam and recorded seven outs. Tyler Clippard, Ryan Mattheus and Henry Rodriguez — notching his first save while hitting 101 mph on the stadium radar gun — each followed with a scoreless inning.
“If it wasn’t for the bullpen,” Gonzalez said, “it would’ve been an ugly day.”
“Everybody on the 25-man, everybody’s got their own little role,” Stammen said. “And every single role that they have is just as important as the other one.”
The rally could have died before it even began if not for Espinosa. He fouled off four consecutive two-strike pitches from Wood, waiting for a pitch to drive. On the 10th pitch, Espinosa took a smooth, easy swing and launched a 96-mph fastball over the left field fence, slicing the Cubs’ lead to 4-3 and giving the Nationals hope.
“I was just trying to battle and lay off the tough pitches,” Espinosa said. “The last pitch, I finally got a pitch I could handle and do something with.”