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[Updated] Instant analysis: Nats 9, Mets 7 (10)

Mar 31, 2014, 5:00 PM EST

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Updated at 7:00 p.m.

GAME IN A NUTSHELL: The Nationals took the field at 1:13 p.m. under blue skies glowing about the prospects of the upcoming season. Less than two innings in, they were in full-blown panic mode over their two biggest stars. Stephen Strasburg served up a 3-run homer in the bottom of the first to Andrew Brown. Bryce Harper then took a leg to the head on a nasty collision at second base, going down in a heap. (The Nats also lost Wilson Ramos in mid-game to a left-hand injury, though X-rays were initially negative.) Harper, after being examined by trainer Lee Kuntz, stayed in the game. And Strasburg composed himself to battle his way through six innings.

The Nationals got an early home run from Adam LaRoche, but then couldn’t touch Dillon Gee until a late rally in the top of the seventh. An Anthony Rendon RBI double and a bases-loaded walk drawn by Denard Span tied the game 4-4 and left things in the hands of both bullpens. Both wound up struggling. Tyler Clippard served up the go-ahead homer to Juan Lagares on an 0-2 fastball in the bottom of the eighth. Bobby Parnell then gave up the tying run in the top of the ninth, allowing a single to Ian Desmond, walking pinch-hitter Danny Espinosa with two outs and then giving up an RBI double to Span. That put the pressure on Aaron Barrett, making his major-league debut in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game on Opening Day. And the rookie right-hander rose to the occasion, retiring the side and striking out two.

That put Barrett in line to earn the win, and his teammates made sure it happened with a 10th-inning rally. Jayson Werth and Jose Lobaton (who replaced Ramos) singled, and Desmond then drove in Werth with a sacrifice fly to center. Rendon, just for good measure, crushed a 3-run homer off ex-Nationals lefty John Lannan, to extend the lead. Jerry Blevins then finished things off — but not until after serving up a 2-run homer to David Wright — to secure Matt Williams’ first career win as a big-league manager, in an Opening Day ballgame with enough twists and turns to fill an entire month.

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Handcuffed all afternoon by Gee, the Nationals’ lineup finally came alive late. They certainly had plenty of big opportunities over the final few innings. Rendon delivered a clutch, two-0ut double in the seventh. Span drew the big, game-tying walk, then the later game-tying double. But the game-winner came courtesy of Desmond, who merely lofted a flyball to center field in the top of the 10th. Given the situation — runners on second and third, one out — that’s exactly what Desmond needed to do. He battled his way through the at-bat against Jeurys Familia, fouling off one fastball at his eyelids, before delivering the sac fly that put the Nationals ahead. Can’t completely ignore Rendon here, though, considering he put the game away with his 3-run blast off Lannan, giving the young second baseman four RBI on the day.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Strasburg was by no means sharp, and he legitimately labored early. But give him this: He found a way to compose himself, battled his way through six innings and gave his teammates a chance to rally late. The early problems seemed to stem from a lack of fastball command. That was especially true on Strasburg’s 2-2 fastball to Brown in the bottom of the first, which was promptly crushed deep into the left-field bleachers. Only three innings in, Strasburg had put seven men on base and run his pitch count up to 61. But that’s when he buckled down and salvaged his afternoon. Finding his fastball command again, and mixing in several effective sliders — a pitch he only added to his repertoire this spring — Strasburg looked like a completely different pitcher in retiring the final 10 batters he faced. He’ll be dissatisfied with the performance, but the fact he was able to alter things mid-stream and come through with a decent outing should be viewed as a long-term positive.

INJURY UPDATE: Despite reports that Ramos had broken his left hand, Williams said initial X-rays taken at the stadium were negative. Ramos will be examined by a hand specialist in Baltimore on Tuesday, at which point the club will have a better idea of the severity of the injury. Given everything the catcher has been through over the last two years, another significant injury would be especially devastating to the club. … Harper was able to stay in the game after his nasty collision at second base because he passed a concussion test shortly after the incident. The young star said he passed another concussion test after the game, though he admitted he had a headache. The Nationals will need to monitor Harper over the next 48 hours and be confident he is fine before letting him play Wednesday night.

KEY STAT: Strasburg is the first Washington pitcher to strike out 10 batters on Opening Day since the Senators’ Camilo Pascual had 15 strikeouts against the Red Sox on April 18, 1960 at Griffith Stadium.

QUOTABLE: “That’s what we want to have as our DNA, that we never give up. We never give in. They proved that today. We have the kind of folks on this club who can do that.” — Matt Williams, on his team’s come-from-behind victory.

UP NEXT: Both clubs will take the always-unfortunate day off after Opening Day and then return Wednesday night for the second game of the series. Gio Gonzalez makes his season debut for the Nationals, while 40-year-old Bartolo Colon makes his Mets debut. The big questions, of course: How will Harper feel 48 hours after his scary collision, and will he be able to play? And with Ramos potentially out for awhile, can Lobaton handle the load behind the plate?

  1. janebeard - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:04 PM

    Woohoo! (Since Michele S is AT the game. Anthony was great, so happy that Danny kept it alive there too. Sad about Wilson.
    We won! We grinded it out. I of course helped not at all. But still WE won!

  2. Ghost of Steve M. - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:11 PM

    What? Broken hand for Wilson Ramos?

    • Eric - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:16 PM

      Unbelievable… I posted the WaPo’s short blurb on it towards the end of the game thread.

    • laddieblahblah - Mar 31, 2014 at 6:06 PM

      Matt said at the post-game news conference that the hand was x-rayed and was negative. Ramos will be seeing a specialist tomorrow to make sure.

  3. pdowdy83 - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:12 PM

    And 1 game up on the Barves.

    Is it too early for scoreboard watching? Lol

    • adcwonk - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:27 PM

      Well, yeah, maybe — unless it’s the Braves! ;-)

      One up on the Braves sounds great to me!

  4. David Proctor - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:18 PM

  5. Joe Seamhead - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:19 PM

    Very bad news regarding Wilson Ramos. Damn…

    There were several keys today. Pitching, SS struggled, but hung tough. Drew Storen was very impressive, as was the winning pitcher of record Aaron Barrett! Clip and Blevins both need to eliminate those mistakes.

    Rendon gets player of the game from me, but Espy, ALR, Span, and Desi also all had great at bats.

    Harper played a huge part in some of the runs that got scored with his slides into 2nd, but it doesn’t show up on any stats sheets.

  6. Joe Seamhead - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:21 PM

    Wow! So the news might not be as bad as first reported on Ramos? WoooHooo! Let’s hope!

  7. adcwonk - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:25 PM

    Let’s give kudos to Espinoza — a huge at bat, taking a couple of close pitches to get the walk. Something he hasn’t done in years.

  8. Theophilus T.S. - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:25 PM

    Didn’t see the Ramos injury and still waiting for the definitive word — which doesn’t sound good. Probably 6-8 weeks if hand is broken. The new/refurbished guys came through. LaRoche HR. Espinosa BB, had a good chance for a hit in his last AB. Storen very sharp. Barrett. Lobaton base hit. Blevins too, that jetstream fly ball not withstanding.

    If you want to know where Hairston stands on this roster: the only non-position player not to get in the game. There’s always hope.

  9. veejh - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:26 PM

    So, is Ramos hand broken or not? That dude is cursed.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Mar 31, 2014 at 6:57 PM

      When they pulled him I thought it got him on the bottom rib. Probably good news if there is any.

  10. veejh - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:27 PM

    ….my player of the game goes to Espinosa. Yes, Espinosa. That AB in the top of the ninth with 2 outs was so good. The old Espi would have K’d, no doubt.

    • veejh - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:28 PM

      Yes, I realize Rendon had 4 RBIs.

      • Eric - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:45 PM

        Couldn’t agree more. Huge, huge at bat, all the moreso since he’s basically battling to retain a place in the big leagues. Can’t think of a better situation for him to show that his new approach really might stick.

    • Joe Seamhead - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:30 PM

      I have no problem with giving Espy accolades. He had the best at bat of the game in many respects.

      • veejh - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:34 PM

        When the game was on the line, he came through. I was shocked and very happy for him.

    • Eric - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:47 PM

      Ugh alignment off again on my last post…anyway, Espi’s walk had to be inspiring for the rest of the team. That’s exactly the kind of grit this team needs to show this year. That’s the kind of grit that brought the Cards back in game 5.

    • unkyd59 - Mar 31, 2014 at 7:00 PM

      +1

  11. Theophilus T.S. - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:29 PM

    OK, so Ramos’s hand not broken — subject to consultation with “hand specialist.” Obviously not a slight injury — and probably not back in a couple of days. Who, again, is “emergency” catcher?

    • deftndumb - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:38 PM

      Welcome back, Sandy Leon.

    • Steady Eddie - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:46 PM

      Yeah, unless Tatanka can come back in a few days, which sounds highly doubtful, we really need to be able to put him on the DL and bring up a real backup.

  12. Candide - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:51 PM

    Espi’s AB was huge, not just because he got on and scored, but because he wasn’t flailing like he did last year. If he can carry through like this regularly, I’d love to see him at 2nd next year, Zimm at 1st, and Rendon at 3rd. What an infield THAT would be.

    Also, Desi’s sac fly RBI was huge, for similar reasons; he didn’t swing out of his shoes for once when all you needed was one run.

    If all this is Matt Williams’s doing, I’m really optimistic about this team.

    A good, gutty, gritty win. No way they would have come back like this, repeatedly, last year.

  13. Joe Seamhead - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:51 PM

    Well, if it shows that he can play in a couple of days how do they work it?

    • Joe Seamhead - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:52 PM

      Ramos, I mean.

  14. ehay2k - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:56 PM

    Mark, how many rewrites did you do for this game?

    Very happy for the win, if only to take the pressure of Williams and the team. Comebacks are admirable, but we could all do without the adversity. How did Ramos’ hand get hit if it was behind his back? Oh….

  15. micksback1 - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:59 PM

    entertaining game to watch, Ray Knight is correct, last season, Nats probably do not have fire power to come back.
    positives, many, Rendon, Espi great at bat, Span, great hit and defense, this young reliever I like a lot, Drew looked great, Stras pitched well, RZim needs to hit at least one time with runners in scoring position but he will as we move along, I thought Matt Williams managed very well today. I hope Wlson is OK, this would really be a bummer if he is out awhile.

  16. texnat1 - Mar 31, 2014 at 6:02 PM

    Yes, I happily join in giving Espi high marks for his critical walk. I hope I can catch a replay of the AB. Certainly not something that a hopelessly over-aggressive hitter would have been able to pull off.

  17. Steady Eddie - Mar 31, 2014 at 6:21 PM

    (1) I thought Matt did a good job in his first game too, although I’m not sure why he didn’t go right to McLouth instead of putting up Frandzen against a right-handed pitcher. It did make me kind of nervous having him basically empty the bench by the top of the ninth.

    (2) I am taking the 9–7 score as a good omen to start the season, considering that other unfortunate game a little while ago that ended our season by the same score.

  18. laddieblahblah - Mar 31, 2014 at 6:22 PM

    Congrats to MW and Aaron Barrett for the win.

    Pretty good situational hitting today, and really clutch hitting with 2 outs – Rendon and Span, in particular, and Desi cutting back his swing with 2 strikes to get the go-ahead run in with a sac fly. That’s all he needed to do. And Danny taking some close pitches to draw a walk, instead of killing the rally with a K.

    Remember Cole Kimball? Barrett reminds me of him, a big, burly guy with nasty, sinking stuff that he gets over for strikes.

    The Nats won even though their ace did not have his best command, and gave up 4 runs in only 6 innings. That would have been the ball game last year. But this year’s lineup can hit, and hit with power, all the way from the 2-hole through to the 8-hole. ALR looks so much better, as does Span, compared to this time last year. The bench provided Lobaton’s key base hit and walks from McClouth and Espinosa. Very good contributions from the bench.

    The Nats put up 5 runs in 9 innings, and should win almost all of those games with their staff, but it wasn’t enough, so they scored 4 more in the 10th.

    I don’t think we’ll see many games where the starters and relievers give up 7 runs. And last year the Nats defense was terrible early on. Not today. Flawless defense, with a couple of gems from Rendon and Span, to go along with their clutch hitting.

    We all hope Ramos is OK.

    Just 161 more to go.

    • Theophilus T.S. - Mar 31, 2014 at 6:33 PM

      How can Barrett remind you of Kimball if he gets the ball over for strikes?

  19. natsjackinfl - Mar 31, 2014 at 6:53 PM

    A couple of things. Zero errors today. That’s a great start. Relief pitchers that throw strikes. The Nats relievers only walked 1 in 4 innings (and of course he scored ahead of Wright on the home run).

    Ask the Mets how they feel about relief pitchers that walk people.

    • Joe Seamhead - Mar 31, 2014 at 7:23 PM

      Blevins escapes a pretty big screw up with the 2 out walk to the hitter ahead of Wright. Don’t make a habit of it, Jerry!

  20. Joe Seamhead - Mar 31, 2014 at 7:19 PM

    OK, whoever on the player of the game. Espinosa, Rendon, Span could all have a case made for them and I would agree with any of them. But I mentioned earlier about Bryce Harper and the importance of his aggressive base running in this game. He deserves the “unsung hero award” for it. I really feel he deserves credit for a part in 4 runs scoring. Here’s how:

    In the top of the second he walked, broke up a double play with his head on what gets scored as a fielders choice on Desi who was safe because Harp broke up the play, and then ALR then comes up and hits a 2 run homer.

    In the 7th with 1 out Desi again hit into a fielder’s choice that the Mets defender, Young [?] was gun shy about getting slammed by Harper again, and Desi was safe but Harp was the 2nd out with the force. Then,with the gift of an extra out as a result of Young’s fear, ALR walked, Desi to 2nd. Then Rendon doubled scoring Desi, ALR to 3rd. McLouth walked, loading the bases. Span walked, ALR scored. That’s my point as to why Harper had a big influence in this game that doesn’t show up in the stats.
    Both of those fielder’s choice plays could easily have been double plays, one of them an inning ending play, if not for Bryce. Other then maybe Werth, I’m not sure if anybody else comes in to second quickly enough with the impact Harper does.

    Great team win. I thought Williams did a very good job for his first game with so many oddities in it.

    • Section 222 - Mar 31, 2014 at 8:23 PM

      I was thinking about taking issue with the idea that Espi has a case for player of the game for one key walk vs. Rendon’s four RBI game, including a homer. (He made a nice diving stop of a hard hit grounder early in the game too.) But instead I will second your kudos to Harper. Remember my “Harper hustle” analysis last spring? You could certainly make a case for one of the two RBIs on ALRs being credited to Harper and all of the runs in the 7th. So good call.

      • Eric - Mar 31, 2014 at 8:38 PM

        The most important thing about Espi’s at bat is that the game could’ve easily ended right there and Rendon would’ve had a 1-RBI game in a loss.

        But, there is a LOT of integral credit to go around. Espi, Rendon, Span, Harper, and Desi all played game changing roles today. Espi and Desi both bucked their personal tendencies to swing hard under pressure, etc. This was truly a team win.

        So, I don’t feel there is a “player of the game,” but I do think Espi’s at bat was far and away the most pivotal and exciting moment of the day. It was the fulcrum that provided the leverage necessary to lift the Nat’s fortunes, imo.

      • Section 222 - Mar 31, 2014 at 9:13 PM

        You’ll get no argument from me that that wasn’t a great at bat in a key situation. But it seems like there are twice as many comments here lauding Espi for a walk as noting that Rendon had a career high four RBIs in the game, including not one but two key extra base hits, both with two outs. It’s as if people think that they have to point out every good play that Espi makes and say, “see, I told you so.” Whatever. So far so good as a utility player. I’m very glad he didn’t strike out to end the game, and I tip my cap to him for that. But Rendon sure made a pretty good case that Williams made the right call by starting him today, wouldn’t you say?

      • Eric - Mar 31, 2014 at 9:37 PM

        Not to speak for anyone else, but I’m not getting anything like an “I told you so” vibe from anyone. More like “Wow! Never saw that coming!”

        Certainly that could be magnifying the significance for folks.

        For my part, I just love the kind of tension on display in that at bat, especially when it goes our way. It’s what draws me into baseball. Not that I don’t love a good finger, too!

      • Eric - Mar 31, 2014 at 9:39 PM

        Wow. Finger = dinger. LMAO! Autocorrect of the day!!!

      • Section 222 - Mar 31, 2014 at 9:45 PM

        Finally got to Espi’s AB on the replay. High drama for sure. Boy that ball four was close. Whew!

  21. Steady Eddie - Mar 31, 2014 at 7:25 PM

    Actually,Mark, I would suggest that “the always-unfortunate day off after Opening Day” is not unfortunate at all for the Nats this time.

    It gives Bryce that much more time to collect himself and get loose before the intensity of another game, and lets the Nats get a clearer sense of how much time they’re looking at with Wilson for having to decide what kind of a move to make for a backup.

    I know, it’s a nit — and you had at the same time about a weeks worth of important things (at least in the context of baseball) to write about in one afternoon!

    • cayucosbaseballconservancy - Mar 31, 2014 at 7:35 PM

      They very much do need this day off.

      They are going to have decide what to do about catcher on that day off. Rizzo might have already had a few poles in the fire relative to trades which based on consensus and results he might reinitiate and kick into overdrive.

      Meanwhile, they will determine whether to reach down into the minors or perhaps resign a Chris Snyder who was recently released.

      Its going to be a very long evening and day tomorrow for the Nats front office and on the field manager and coaches.

      • unkyd59 - Mar 31, 2014 at 8:36 PM

        The ‘Pen will appreciate the day off, as well…

    • cayucosbaseballconservancy - Mar 31, 2014 at 7:37 PM

      Oh, and that idea they briefly considered relative to keeping three catchers? It might rear its head again.

      • letswin3 - Mar 31, 2014 at 10:18 PM

        Never.

  22. natsjackinfl - Mar 31, 2014 at 7:41 PM

    The Marlins are actually playing with the roof open. And Colorado has no shot at hitting this kid Fernandez. He is electric.

    • cayucosbaseballconservancy - Mar 31, 2014 at 9:23 PM

      They are my pick for the big surprise team. The Nats won’t have it easy in the NL East not with the pitching the Marlins have and the Braves. The Mets aren’t too shabby either …

      • Section 222 - Mar 31, 2014 at 10:51 PM

        Welcome back peric.

  23. letswin3 - Mar 31, 2014 at 11:28 PM

    I don’t wish Danny any ill will, but to slobber all over him for getting a walk, and suggesting that he’s our player of the game is just weird. We had another guy get an RBI walk, and that wasn’t dramatic enough?….come on. Spann was great, Rendon got 4 RBI’s and a web gem, ALR had a huge 2-run homer and relievers like Storen and Barrett were very impressive, but to suggest that Espinosa was a hero because he extended the game is tilting at windmills. I liked his walk too …. it showed me more discipline than he’s mustered in a very long time, but let’s not make him out to be more than he is. If it’s a campaign to justify his spot on the bench, let’s wait till he does a little more than work a walk before sending out the wedding invitations.

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