Mar 31, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
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?
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