A record crowd of 45,274 fans were on hand this afternoon to see the Nationals kick off a season of high expectations against the lowly Miami Marlins this afternoon. #NATITUDE was in full swing, two former #1-overall draft picks dominated in their first career home Opening Days, and the Nationals are now just 161 wins away from the first ever perfect regular season in major league history.
It was in the mid-60′s and sunny. Awards were handed out before the game. President Taft was scheduled to make his Presidents’ Race debut. Several thousand fans were armed with free rally towels that were distributed before the game. The 2012 NL East Pennant was unveiled. The stage could not have been set better to kick off what hopes to be a dominant year in Washington.
Weather was inconsistent at Nats Park this afternoon, and as if there was a question how godly Bryce Harper was, it seemed to always start raining whenever Harper stepped up to the plate. While at first it seemed an unfortunate occurrence, in hindsight, perhaps it was an omen.
“Making it rain” proved to be a double-entendre to describe Harper’s day at the plate, as he clubbed two solo home runs to right field in his first two at-bats of the season. The first shot of the day got the game going in the right direction for Washington, as Harper took a Ricky Nolasco curveball over the Nats bullpen in right field to give the Nationals their first run of the season. Harper would strike again three innings later, as Nolasco would again challenge Harper with a failed down-and-in curveball; Harper would once again give a lucky fan in right field a fantastic souvenir. The performance generated several “M-V-P” chants (which I enjoyed greatly), as well as a fourth-inning curtain call.
With the two homers, Harper became the youngest player to ever hit two Opening Day home runs for his team. Harper also entered the franchise record books as the only Expo/National to ever hit a home run in each of his first two at-bats of the season. But his day didn’t stop at the plate. Harper was also a key part of an inning-ending double play in the seventh inning that ultimately saved the combined shutout.
After striking out Chris Coghlan to kick off the seventh, Stephen Strasburg would give up back-to-back hits to Giancarlo Stanton and Placido Polanco. The situation brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the form of Rob Brantly, with runners on the corners and still only one out. Brantly hit up to left field, where Harper successfully made the catch and fired it back into the infield to catch first-base runner Polanco in a run-down. Amongst the throws between first and second, third-base runner Stanton attempted to score, but Danny Espinosa made a heads-up play gunning Stanton down at home plate.
While a highlight-reel play would assist Strasburg in escaping his final inning of the day without allowing a run, Strasburg was not without his shining moments as well. Prior to the two hits in the seventh inning by Stanton and Polanco, Strasburg had retired 19 consecutive batters with the lone hit coming from leadoff man Juan Pierre in the very first at-bat of the game. Strasburg finished the day with seven innings of shutout ball under his belt, giving up just three runs while striking out three. Strasburg’s pin-point accuracy made the difference, as he fired 52 of his 80 pitches (65%) for strikes before turning the game over to the bullpen.
Tyler Clippard would come in to pitch the eighth, recording a strikeout and allowing no hits while picking up his first hold on the season. Rafael Soriano would then come in to close things out, pitching a perfect ninth inning and collecting the save in his Nationals debut.
One game down, 161+ to go. At this rate, this season is going to be fun, boys and girls.