The new Nats closer ended the season-opening win in his signature fashion, untucking his shirt once he got the final out and the save.
See here, in photos by The Post’s Jonathan Newton:
Monday began for the Washington Nationals with a celebration of what they accomplished last season: the revealing of a title banner and collection of trophies, proceedings Manager Davey Johnson disparaged in the morning as “ceremony.” What came after the first pitch broadened imaginations and stretched the limits of what may happen over the next six months, a fever dream for longtime followers who endured 100-loss seasons and waited until two inexorable forces occupied the Nationals Park diamond, together at last for a full season.
Before a record regular season crowd, the Nationals’ 2-0 victory turned the Miami Marlins into props for the first major-league opening day of Bryce Harper’s career and the powerful efficiency of Stephen Strasburg. Harper’s two solo home runs in his first two at-bats of the season provided the only meaningful offense for the Nationals and countless stories to tell for the 45,274 who packed the stadium. Strasburg fired only 80 pitches over seven shutout innings, yielding three hits while inducing weak outs.
FINAL: Rafael Soriano notched his first save as a National, pitching a perfect 1-2-3 ninth inning. He struck out Chris Coghlan on a wicked slider and faced slugger Giancarlo Stanton for the final out. He worked in and out in the strike zone, striking him out looking with an a low cut fastball.
MID 8: After issuing a leadoff walk, Tyler Clippard got three straight outs to end the eighth inning. As he always does, Clippard worked deliberately, finding his form after tossing five balls in his first six pitches. He got pinch hitter Greg Dobbs to pop up to left for the third out.
After Bryce Harper squeezed the final out of the eighth inning in his glove, Rafael Soriano yanked off his red Nationals jacket and started warming on the bullpen mound with coach Jim Lett watching.
Stephen Strasburg is out after 80 pitches and seven remarkably clean, efficient innings. His line: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB and 3 K.
But should Manager Davey Johnson have pulled Strasburg? Tyler Clippard is on to pitch the eight — an interesting development in itself, because Rafael Soriano should pitch the ninth, and Drew Storen might be in never-never land.
Last year, Strasburg threw 80 or fewer pitches four times. In those starts, he lasted 6.0, 3.0, 4.0 and 3.0 innings. In other words, it was generally when he struggled.
Today, he was in complete command. Even with two left-handed hitters coming up in the eighth, couldn’t Johnson have allowed his presumed ace to pitch like, well, a presumed ace?
MID 8: Despite tossing only 80 pitches through seven innings, Manager Davey Johnson ends Stephen Strasburg’s day in favor of Tyler Clippard. It’s a surprising move, considering Strasburg was throwing well and had a low pitch count. A possible reason? It’s early in the season and Johnson has typically protected his starters. Also, it’s interesting that Clippard is in to pitch the eighth inning and not Drew Storen. Strasburg would have been in line to throw in the eighth for first time in his career.
A 94 mph fastball to Juan Pierre for a strike. Photo by The Post’s Jonathan Newton.
MID 7: In many ways, Bryce Harper finds a way to affect the game. With two runners on base and one out, Rob Brantly lifted a ball to left field. Harper camped under it, caught it and fired a strike home to catcher Wilson Ramos’s chest. Giancarlo Stanton, on third base, stayed.
But as Ramos held the ball, Placido Polanco tried advancing to second base. He was nearly caught in a rundown before Danny Espinosa turned and fired home to nab Stanton at home easily. It was unusual but electric way to end the inning. Nationals lead, 2-0.
The announced attendance is 45,274, the second largest crowd in Nationals Park history after NLDS Game 5 (45,966).
Stephen Strasburg retired 18 straight hitters headed into the top of the seventh, but he’s doing it in completely different style than we’re accustomed: He’s pitching to contact.
Last year, Strasburg ranked eighth in the majors among pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched in contact percentage. A full quarter of swings against him — 25.7 percent — resulted in a miss. That’s how you rack up strikeouts.
But through six innings, Strasburg has struck out just two hitters — including Ricky Nolasco, the opposing pitcher — and both were looking.
So 17 of 19 hitters (through six) have ended their at-bats by making contact. This has drastically cut down on Strasburg’s pitch count. We’re wondering here if he has ever thrown just 67 pitches through six innings. Doubtful, it seems.
And with that, of course, he opens the seventh by getting a swinging strikeout of Chris Coghlan.
END 6: On a 0-1 pitch Bryce Harper squared around to show a bunt to Ricky Nolasco for some reason. He then pulled back. Harper fell behind 3-1 and then just missed on a fastball to deep left field for an out. He still received a loud applause and standing ovation from fans as he ran back to the dugout. He is hitting, only, .667. Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche did nothing behind him. Nationals lead, 2-0.
Stay tuned for video of the inevitable next homer.
So in chatting with Mark Lerner before the game, I asked him if, now that the team appears to be very good, whether he thinks back to those nights in, say, 2007 or 2008 when there seemed to be no hope. (Lord knows I do.)
“We knew we had to get worse before we got better, and we did that,” said Lerner, one of the Nationals’ principle owners. “But we hit the jackpot in Vegas the two years we had 59 wins with Strasburg and Harper, and that was great. That was great.”
Sitting in his front-row seat just to the left of the Nationals dugout, Lerner couldn’t possibly feel better about that coincidence than right now. Harper is 2 for 2 with two homers and, should the Nats win today, could be the talk of baseball over the next two days.
Unless Strasburg outdoes him. After that leadoff single from Juan Pierre, the Marlins have exactly nothing — 15 up, 15 down. He has used exactly 60 pitches to get through five innings — a pace of 12-pitch innings that has felt exactly that easy. He has only struck out two, but has induced nine groundball outs.
Both Harper and Strasburg were on the cover of Sports Illustrated this spring. There might be a reason for that.
Here’s a video of Bryce Harper’s solo home run on his first at-bat of the season.
And some images, because there’s probably no overdoing this:
MID 4: Stephen Strasburg is dealing. He has retired 12 straight batters. He needed only 11 pitches to get three outs in the heart of the Marlins order: Chris Coghlan, Giancarlo Stanton and Placido Polanco. He has tossed 53 pitches through four innings, the type of efficiency he has been striving for in his first full season in the majors. Nationals lead, 1-0.
The first three innings of Stephen Strasburg’s 2013 season are in the books, and they were about as easy as they could be. After allowing Juan Pierre’s leadoff single, Strasburg has retired nine straight men, needing only 42 pitches to do it.
For Strasburg, this may matter more than with other pitchers. If it seems like he’s a notoriously slow starter, that’s because he is.
In 2012, for instance, Strasburg posted a 3.16 ERA for the season. But his ERA for the first three innings of games was 3.32 — the highest of any three-inning split he had.
If Strasburg pitches deep, it’s for good reason: His stuff is excellent on those days. In the five times he appeared in the seventh inning or later, he had a 1.80 ERA in those frames.
MID 3: Stephen Strasburg’s command and offspeed pitches are incredibly sharp now. Adeiny Hechavarria struck out looking on an absurd 80 mph curveball after a 95 mph fastball. Hechavarria tried to swing and held back, but it fell in for a strike. Strasburg has tossed 42 pitches, 27 for strikes and allowed no hits since the first inning.
Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa did nothing against Ricky Nolasco in the bottom of the second inning. Nationals lead, 1-0.
MID 2: Stephen Strasburg worked quickly through the 1-2-3 second inning, getting three quick groundouts. He has thrown only 25 pitches, 16 for strikes. All but one of his outs so far have been groundouts. Nationals lead, 1-0.
END 1: Bryce Harper’s much anticipated second major league season, his first full one of his career, is off to a rousing start. He destroyed Ricky Nolasco’s second pitch, a hanging inside curveball, and over the right field fence. Nationals Park erupted.
Harper rounded the bases at breakneck speed, smacked low-fives with Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche, and gave hard high-fives to his teammates in the dugout, including Davey Johnson. It is, after all, his first opening day. Nationals lead, 1-0.
MID 1: Stephen Strasburg’s second pitch was lined into the outfield by Juan Pierre for a leadoff single. He induced a groundout from Chris Coghlan and slugger Giancarlo Stanton flew out to center on the first pitch.
Ryan Zimmerman saved a run with a stellar diving play to his left off the bat of cleanup hitter Placido Polanco. He hopped up to his feet and threw his out with a throw to first base. Zimmerman’s feet and hands have never been an issue, but his throwing arm, which he has been building up since offseason shoulder surgery, looked better on that throw. Tie game, 0-0.
The Nationals players, staff and coaches were introduced before Monday’s season opener, in a long ceremony of celebration and fanfare.
Jayson Werth ran down the line of teammates but, in typical Werth fashion, didn’t give a high-five to Screech. Davey Johnson received perhaps the loud ovation. He sported a broad grin as he ran onto the field.
Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche and Stephen Strasburg were awarded their Silver Slugger awards, although Strasburg was in the bullpen. LaRoche also received his Gold Glove award. Johnson also flashed a big smile when he received his NL Manager of the Year award. Bryce Harper received his NL Rookie of the Year award, and Mike Rizzo his executive of the year award from the Boston chapter of the baseball writers’s association.
Post photographer Toni Sandys got this amazing shot of Dylan Gordon, 7, jumping to high five stilt walker Mark Lohr outside of Nats Park before the game. Best ever.
The Nationals unveiled their first National League East championship banner above the massive scoreboard in right field before Monday’s home opener.
“A lot of pride,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said before the game.. “It’s a lot of hard work from a lot of people. It’s a proud day for the organization and being the general manager of the organization I take great pride in being the National League East champions. Today starts anew. We’ll unveil that and put it behind us and start looking towards ’13 to do something special.”
Fear not. There are gluten-free nachos and hot dogs on sale for $5 near Section 136.
The Nats have a new “season plan holder lounge,” where fans can go and ask questions about the new smart card system.
The lounge, located behind Section 139, also has computers that plan holders can use to email tickets to friends, or to learn how to use the new system. It will be open for every game. Here are a few photos, via Sarah Kogod.
Via Sarah Kogod, here’s Tripp Whitbeck, also known to some as the mayor of Natstown.
“I’ve been doing this for six years,” he told Sarah. “I love it.”
When Sarah talked to Whitebeck two hours before first pitch, he’d already been stopped seven times for photos before even making it to the gate.
And via James Wagner, here’s Kurt Suzuki’s bonsai tree in the dugout. We will need more information on this.
More to come, so stay tuned.
Six months after baseball was last played in Washington, it returns. The Nationals open their season overflowing with expectations and hype. Stephen Strasburg makes his second opening day start, the first of his unrestricted season. The retooled and lowly Marlins are the opponent, right-hander Ricky Nolasco the starter.
Earlier today: Nationals and Marlins lineups
The comment thread is right below this for you to discuss anything about today that you’d like. In addition, join James Wagner, Barry Svrluga, Dan Steinberg and Sarah Kogod for updates here throughout the game. First pitch is at 1:05 p.m.
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Catch up on your Nationals reading from the past few days: