Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Historic Wrigley Field hosts the Nationals for the first game of the season.
There may not be anyone in attendance today happier to know that than Stephen Strasburg, who gets to take advantage of the weather -- not to mention a less-than-daunting Cubs lineup -- in his 2012 debut. It'll be interesting to see how far Davey Johnson lets his ace go. Strasburg threw as many as 84 pitches this spring, so he should be good to surpass 90 and maybe even approach 100.
Veteran Ryan Dempster will be on the mound for Chicago, facing a Nationals lineup that is without cleanup hitter Michael Morse and center fielder Rick Ankiel (both are set to begin rehab assignments with Class AA Harrisburg tonight in Bowie) but still boasts a red-hot Ryan Zimmerman (who looked fantastic this spring).
It's the greatest day of the year, and if you can't be here watching the game live, rest assured I'll have plenty of updates throughout right here...
WASHINGTON NATIONALS at CHICAGO CUBS
Where: Wrigley Field
Gametime: 2:20 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, Ch. 50, WGN (outside DC area), MLB.tv
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 185
Weather: Sunny, 51 degrees, Wind 16 mph in from CF
NATIONALS (0-0)2:25 p.m. -- Ian Desmond comes out hacking and lines Ryan Dempster's very first pitch of the season to right field for a base hit. Baseball season is underway!
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
RF Jayson Werth
LF Mark DeRosa
CF Roger Bernadina
C Wilson Ramos
P Stephen Strasburg
RF David DeJesus
2B Darwin Barney
SS Starlin Castro
LF Alfonso Soriano
3B Ian Stewart
1B Jeff Baker
CF Marlon Byrd
C Geovany Soto
P Ryan Dempster
HP Dana DeMuth
1B Kerwin Danley
2B Doug Eddings
3B Paul Nauert
2:35 p.m. -- The good news: Desmond and Danny Espinosa did their job, singling and drawing a walk to set the table for the big boys. The bad news: The big boys couldn't get the job done. Ryan Zimmerman sent a deep fly ball to center that might have been a three-run homer on June 5. But on April 5 at Wrigley, that's a flyout. It did advance the runners, but Adam LaRoche struck out at a wicked changeup from Dempster, and Jayson Werth then sent a soft flyball to right to end the inning. The Nats are already 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position.
2:41 p.m. -- That didn't take long. Stephen Strasburg needed all of seven pitches (five strikes) to get through the bottom of the first. There was a little goof-up when he pointed at Starlin Castro's pop-up and got out of the way, only to watch the ball fall in for a single. Strasburg needed to just make that play himself. No one else had a chance to get there in time. But he used the wind to his advantage and got Alfonso Soriano to hit a long flyball to center to end the inning. Scoreless after one.
2:52 p.m. -- You know, Davey Johnson said earlier today that Strasburg can go 80-100 pitches. At this rate, he could start both ends of a doubleheader. Two innings in the books, and he's only thrown 14 pitches. Fourteen! That's seven batters faced, an average of two per hitter. Fastball has been sharp, 95-96 mph. Curveball totally fooled Marlon Byrd twice on a second-inning strikeout. It's early, but man he looks good.
3:06 p.m. -- Wait, was that the top of the third or a replay of the top of the first? Desmond and Espinosa both reach, then Zimmerman draws a walk to load the bases for the heart of the lineup. At which point LaRoche strikes out on a changeup and Werth flies out to right. Exact same thing that happened two innings earlier. The Nats are 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position already. Scoreless in the middle of the third.
3:13 p.m. -- Boy, Strasburg really had to labor there in the bottom of the third. I mean, it took him a whole 12 pitches to finish the inning. He's at 26 total (18 strikes) through three. Doesn't look like there's going to be much offense here today.
3:27 p.m. -- And just like that, the Cubs are on the board first, thanks to a wobbly bottom of the fourth from the Nats' perspective. Strasburg's command was a bit off, especially as he issued a two-out walk to Baker. Wilson Ramos also made a very poor decision to try to gun down Soriano at second on a little dribbler in front of the mound. Fortunately, Soriano then ran himself into an out trying to steal third. But Byrd's soft liner to left produced the first run of the day, putting the Cubs ahead 1-0 after four.
3:42 p.m. -- A quick, 1-2-3 fifth for Strasburg, but it's not going to matter if the Nats can't score.
3:46 p.m. -- Zimmerman should have two homers today. Instead, he's got two long flyouts. The wind is just brutal here. So is the Nats' lineup. One hit through six innings. LaRoche is 0-for-3 with three Ks. Nobody from the 4-through-9 spots has reached safely. Still 1-0 Cubs in the middle of the sixth.
3:53 p.m. -- Strasburg getting stronger as this game progresses. He's struck out four of the last six batters he's faced, and he's through the sixth inning at only 70 pitches. However, he's due up fourth in the top of the seventh. Henry Rodriguez is starting to warm in the pen. What do you do?
4:01 p.m. -- Well, Steve Lombardozzi was in the on-deck circle to hit for Strasburg, but his spot never came up. So as Bill Murray gets the crowd going during the seventh-inning stretch, Strasburg is back on the mound for the bottom of the inning. Still trails 1-0.
4:07 p.m. -- Can't ask for much more out of Strasburg than what he gave the Nats: 7 ip, 5 h, 1 er, 1 bb, 5 k, 82 pitches. But he's in line to take the loss right now. Nats down to their last six outs.
4:32 p.m. -- Wow, high drama in the top of the eighth. The Nats had two on and two out with LaRoche at the plate and Kerry Wood on the mound. LaRoche battled his way to a full count and then drew the walk, loading the bases for Werth. Werth fell behind 0-2 and then battled his way back, taking a very close 3-2 fastball for ball four and forcing in the tying run. With a chance to deliver against his former team, though, Mark DeRosa sent a soft grounder up the middle and couldn't quite beat the throw to first. So it's a new ballgame, tied 1-1, as Tyler Clippard enters for the bottom of the eighth. Pretty entertaining Opening Day, huh?
4:42 p.m. -- Clippard works his way around an Espinosa error to close out the eighth. It remains 1-1 going to the ninth as Carlos Marmol enters for the Cubs. Bernadina, Ramos and Tracy due up for the Nats.
4:51 p.m. -- Chad Tracy and Ian Desmond to the rescue! Tracy sends a two-out double off the wall in right-center. Then Desmond delivers his third hit of the day, a single to right that scored pinch-runner Brett Carroll. The Nats lead 2-1 and Brad Lidge is warming in the pen.
5:00 p.m. -- It's over. The Nats win a thriller, 2-1, as Lidge earns his first save, overcoming a one-out triple by Ian Stewart. What a way to start the season.