Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Everything went well in the pregame ceremony. Then the Nats took the field.
Asked if his pregame encounter with Barack Obama was a small silver lining on an otherwise regrettable Opening Day at Nationals Park, Riggleman paused and then responded: "That's like asking Mrs. Lincoln how she liked the play."
Good line, Riggs. But a word of advice: You probably shouldn't make jokes about presidential assassinations just hours after shaking the hand of the current president.
Then again, today's events probably called for a morose quip. Could the Nationals have drawn up a worse scenario on Opening Day? Lose to the Phillies, 11-1. Watch as your reliable staff ace gets knocked out in the fourth inning. Watch as your supposedly improved lineup wastes some early opportunities against Roy Halladay and then goes silent the rest of the afternoon. Watch as your bullpen does its best 2009 impersonation, issuing six of the staff's nine walks for the day and allowing six tack-on runs to turn this joyous occasion into a rout.
Oh yeah, and do all of this in front of a sellout crowd of 41,290 that featured at least 15,000 Phillies fans, perhaps 20,000, all who stayed to cheer their team in the ninth inning and turn South Capitol Street into South Broad Street.
Everyone tried to shrug off the Philly invasion, but it was noted by just about everyone in the home clubhouse.
"I think it's a statement of where we've got to get to," Riggleman said. "We've got to get to the point where we far outnumber them, not just on Opening Day. We've just got to get to a point where we outnumber the opposition. That's not given to you. You've got to earn that. And you've got to earn it with wins."
The Nationals certainly didn't earn any new fans with their performance today. Presented a golden opportunity to win over some new converts, they instead laid another Opening Day egg.
An 11-1 shellacking? Really?
"The same goes if we had lost 1-0 or 2-1. A loss is a loss," Ryan Zimmerman said. "I think that's one thing that we'll probably do better this year: Learn from it, get away from it and come right back the next game. We can't afford to go through those spells like we did last year where we played four, five, six games in a row like this. I think the veteran guys here will be able to learn from what we did wrong and come out Wednesday and win that game."
Nats players obviously have to take that approach. It's one game out of 162. It doesn't have any real bearing on the outcome of the season. For evidence of that, just look at the Pirates, who today trounced the Dodgers 11-5 for their fourth consecutive Opening Day victory. The same Pirates who have proceeded to post 17 consecutive losing seasons.
But there were some disturbing trends to emerge from Nationals loss No. 1 today that bear close scrutiny over the next week.
The pitching staff obviously faced a stiff challenge in the Phillies' vaunted lineup, one made all the more potent with the offseason addition of Placido Polanco. But Nats pitchers killed themselves today by issuing nine walks, four of them from reliever Miguel Batista.
"When you put them on base, you don't give your defense a chance," said Batista, who also allowed three hits and was charged with five runs over 1 2/3 painful innings. "I went out there and walked the first guy each inning. But I think it's a minor adjustment. I don't think it's a big deal."
Meanwhile, a Nationals lineup that is supposed to be good enough to at least give this team a chance to win on a regular basis failed to seize an opportunity to take out Halladay early. Four of Washington's first seven hitters reached base against the Phillies' new ace, on two doubles, a single and a walk. Yet only one man crossed the plate.
Sensing he had dodged some bullets, Halladay then bore down and went to business. After that potentially dangerous start to the day, he proceeded to retire 14 of the next 16 batters he faced and finished the afternoon with nine strikeouts.
"He had late break on his ball," said rookie Ian Desmond, who struck out twice and drew a walk in his first confrontation with Halladay. "He kept the ball down in the zone. He didn't really make very many mistakes. We were unable to capitalize on the ones that he did."
No, the Nationals did not capitalize at all today. Presented an opportunity to make a statement, to give their fans reason to believe things will be different in 2010, they instead looked very much like the 2009 Nats.
Does one poor showing on April 5 ensure six months of similar performances? No way.
But one of these days, this franchise needs to make the most of what opportunities it gets.