At RFK, Baseball 101

By Thomas Boswell
Tuesday, April 3, 2007

There was an emergency meeting in the commissioner's office after descriptions of yesterday's Opening Day debacle at RFK reached the appropriate authorities. The vote was close. Mercy prevailed. They're going to let the Nationals play again today.

Welcome to the big leagues, Manny Acta.

The Nats' new manager says he has waited his whole life for his first Opening Day as a skipper. Be careful what you wish for. Any team can lose, but his Nationals lost ominously and ugly, 9-2, to the Marlins. Everything imaginable did not go wrong. It was worse than that. Things you never imagined went wrong, too. Mama said there'd be days like this, but on Opening Day?

Staff ace John Patterson got knocked out in the fourth inning after giving up an upper-deck home run to Miguel Cabrera, who also doubled over the center field wall off him for four RBI. "There's no carry-over to the next game," Patterson said. "It's not how you want to start the season. With so much doubt in the air, it's easy [for critics] to say, 'I told you so.' "

Having your only established starting pitcher get rocked is bad enough. But on this Opening Day, that was nothing. Center fielder Nook Logan crashed the wall at the 410-sign making a nice catch on another Patterson mistake and left the game with an injured left foot. That forced Ryan Church to center, where he's out of position, and sent rookie Chris Snelling to left where he immediately misjudged a routine line drive into a triple off his glove. No, that's not good either. But it gets worse.

Shortstop Cristian Guzman, who hit .413 in spring training, strained his right hamstring running out a grounder and left the game. He may be out awhile. The Nats could need a new shortstop. Acta said Felipe Lopez might move back to shortstop so veteran Ronnie Belliard could play second. But Lopez indicated he wasn't planning any relocation. They'll probably work it out. But, oh, boy, what a way to say "Hello" to a crowd of 40,389 on a 76-degree slice of paradise.

"It's just weird that we went the whole spring training, and were pretty much healthy coming out of Florida," Acta said, "and then two guys go down."

The brightest memory of the day was a 10-foot Teddy Roosevelt mascot soaring down a cable from the top of the right field roof to win the Nats' daily Presidents' Race. Teddy -- shut out in 2006 -- watched the top of the fourth from the top of RFK as Patterson got bombed, Logan got hurt then limped slowly off the field and one Nats disaster followed another.

"Hopefully, Teddy wasn't watching the game too close up there. He might've been worried," catcher Brian Schneider said. Or, if he were a Nats fan, he might have been tempted to jump.

Amid all this, Ryan Zimmerman continued to play in his own tiny, uncontaminated universe. He tripled, singled, was robbed of another hit and, finally, with his team seven runs behind, refused to give up on a wind-blown foul pop that appeared headed several rows into the stands until he suddenly snagged it backhanded out of the photographers' bay.

"You want to win and show the crowd how it's going to be all year or make them think that's how it's going to be," Zimmerman said. "But we can still win the series."

That kind of determination is going to be essential because this game was just a foretaste of pratfalls that are sure to come even if the Nationals play up to their ability. If this game underlined anything it is that Washington has seldom been home to a professional team that needed support (and forgiveness) more than this $36 million collection. Blame those who saved payroll for the future, if you want. But show some compassion for a team that has 16 players who spent the majority of last season in the minors, on the disabled list or out of the game. And, on this Opening Day, it definitely showed.

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