Results tagged ‘ Opening Day ’
Pittsburgh is a classic American sports town, full of multi-generational, die-hard fans. While the football and hockey teams have enjoyed more recent success than the Pirates, the bloodlines connecting each sport run deep through the town. With a proud history from Honus Wagner and Ralph Kiner to Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, baseball has had a home in the Steel City since the late 1800s, and now calls beautiful PNC Park – with a picturesque, skyline view of downtown across the river – its home.
Perhaps there is something to the solidarity of the yellow and black jerseys worn by each team – the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins – or the fact that all play their games within close proximity, as the athletic venues each now reside in the same riverfront neighborhood. But even the fact that the Pirates own the longest stretch of consecutive losing seasons in any professional sport (20 and counting, entering the 2013 campaign) isn’t enough to dampen enthusiasm, or keep the fans away.
There are nice touches at the ballpark that are uniquely Pittsburgh as well. Their version of the Racing Presidents (who took part in the festivities this weekend) are the Pierogies, a local food staple of the eastern Europeans who first settled the city. After victories, they “raise the Jolly Roger,” hoisting a Pirate flag above the ballpark. And, up in the press box, you’ll find Rick, who has worked for the club for 10 years. He owns five different classic Pirates jerseys, and sports whichever one matches best with what the team on the field dons that particular game, along with his throwback handlebar moustache.
But for all the tradition, spectators at PNC Park were treated, for lack of a better word, to something they had never heard before this weekend. As Washington plated six runs in the series-winning victory on Sunday, a chant rose up from a select few in the upper bowl.
Those who have attended a Nationals game in D.C. over the past few years have no doubt become accustomed to, or perhaps even joined in on the rallying cry of “N-A-T-S Nats Nats Nats” that accompanies each score by the hometown nine. But hearing it happen on the road, drawing the ire of the hometown fans, was signified something of a first. It only highlighted just how many red jerseys, t-shirts and Curly W’s were on display in western Pennsylvania this weekend.
The Pirates had averaged just 20,616 fans through their first 12 openings of the season, but saw more than 80,000 spectators over the three-game set, despite playing against a Penguins home playoff game Friday night and the Pittsburgh Marathon on Sunday morning. Saturday’s contest drew 29,975, the largest crowd since Opening Day, but a decent percentage of those in attendance sported red, not the hometown yellow and black.
Two of those who made the trek included Burt and Lynn, who patrolled the grounds outside the park several hours before first pitch on Friday afternoon. Lynn sported her Ross Detwiler jersey T-shirt in support of his start that night, and the two of them took in the sights and sounds of the neighborhood. It marked their first trip to Pittsburgh, and they were hardly alone.
The Nationals already set April attendance records at home, drawing over a half-million fans in the season’s opening month for the first time. But that trend has extended beyond the banks of the Anacostia, where the likes of Burt and Lynn have joined a growing group of Nationals fans bringing the comforts of the ever-growing home field advantage on the road.
The calendar may have read April 10, but there was the distinct feeling of summer in the air as the Nationals began their second homestand of 2013 Tuesday night. With a first pitch temperature of 81 degrees, baseballs were flying out of Nationals Park more the way they tend to do in summertime than in spring. Or, rather, more the way they did when the Washington lineup finally returned to health last summer than the way they did with the depleted, early-season edition.
It can be easy to forget, what with the team’s offensive success in the second half, just how much the Nationals struggled to score runs at times while key members of their lineup were missing. Even once the team was mostly healthy, Jayson Werth’s wrist remained at less than 100 percent strength, while Wilson Ramos would not play again until Opening Day this year.
But look at this lineup right now – there are no breaks, no easy outs. Not just that, but every hitter, one through eight (and even nine, as Gio Gonzalez would have you know), can take a mistake and deposit it over the wall. Werth slugged 20 or more home runs every year from 2008-11, blasting a career best 36 in 2009. Ramos swatted 15 out of the park in less than 400 at-bats two seasons ago before his 2012 was cut short. Considering the three through seven hitters between them combined for 122 homers in under 2,800 at-bats last season (roughly one per 23 at-bats), the current Nationals lineup may well be the most daunting they’ve ever put on the field as a franchise.
Washington has already hit 14 home runs through the season’s first seven games. With the traditional “small sample size” caveat, that puts them on pace for 324 this season, after setting a franchise record with 194 last year. Five players have hit more than one home run. Three – Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche and Ramos – already have a multi-homer game.
Last year, the Nationals had just four combined homers through seven games, and didn’t hit their 14th until Game #24 on May 2, when Ian Desmond rocked J.J. Putz for a two-out, two-run, ninth-inning, walk-off blast.
That home run ignited the first wave of offense to support the stellar pitching staff. Consider this year’s lineup already ignited.
Baseball players are creatures of habit. They have to be, by necessity. Success in this sport is defined by consistency, by the ability to produce at a high level continuously over the ups and downs of a six-month grind.
So one can imagine that it might take a while for players to get into their groove upon the beginning of a new campaign. Spring Training is easy – every day is almost the same – a morning workout, usually a mid-day game, and the evening off, with the same bed to sleep in for six weeks. The regular season brings something else entirely.
From the beginning of April until whenever the season comes to an end, the team jets north and south, east and west, zigzagging the country every few days. Most road trips – of which the Nationals will take a dozen during the regular season – include at least two different stops, meaning a new city, a new opponent for which to prepare, a new ballpark, and a new hotel bed.
It’s no wonder it can take a while for players to settle in.
“It usually took me the whole month of April,” recalled Nationals television color man F.P. Santangelo, who played parts of seven big league seasons with the Expos, Giants, Dodgers and Athletics.
For the Nationals, the month of April includes the recently concluded trip to Cincinnati, an upcoming week split between Miami and New York, and a trip to Atlanta and Pittsburgh that rolls into early May. While that is a fair amount of travel, Santangelo pointed out that the Nats lucked out in one regard.
“At least they only have one Opening Day,” he explained, referencing the April 1 opener in D.C. “Sometimes we’d have two or three. You’d have to stand out on the line for a half-hour for introductions. It would take you totally out of your routine.”
Quite often, teams will play in both their own home opener as well as one or more on the road, as Washington did last year in Chicago. The Nationals were spared the extra pomp and circumstance by a quirk in the schedule this year that saw them play three at home, travel to Cincinnati for three, then return again to D.C.
Now behind the mic, Santangelo is still subject to the same schedule as the players. Having played through it during his career, he knows not to invest too much into the highs (like a three-game, opening sweep of the Marlins) or the lows (such as a 15-0 loss to the Reds on Friday) this early in the season.
That’s the beauty of the game – while each individual result stands on its own, the teams that can get into the habit of winning for the long stretches are the ones that get to keep playing in October.
The first week of the 2013 season is in the books.
Let’s start with what was a truly ideal Opening Day. Great weather, a regular-season record crowd of 45,274 and we beat the Marlins, 2-0. Bryce went deep in his first two plate appearances of the season! Considering Bryce was experiencing his first Opening Day in the big leagues, this was a truly memorable performance that will be talked about for years to come.
Stephen dominated on Opening Day, Gio dominated like it was 2012, Jordan more than held his own and Rafael Soriano earned a pair of saves during the season-opening, three-game sweep of the Marlins.
We did not play nearly as well during the first road trip of the season, dropping two-of-three to the hot-hitting Reds. But Saturday’s gutty win in 11 innings did feature five home runs and a stellar effort from Ross Detwiler, who was touched for just one unearned run in 6.0 innings. Ross’ performance might have been the best-pitched game of the week considering the opponent, the venue and the stakes.
- The feel good story of the week had to have been Wilson Ramos’ two-homer game on Saturday in his first game at Great American Ball Park since injuring his knee there last May. We all know that the last few years have been remarkably trying for Wilson. That said, his boyish smile is back and he is easily in the best shape of his professional life. Wilson worked so diligently during his rehab process and it is rewarding to see him reap the benefits of that labor.
- When the ‘13 schedule was released, this is one of the homestands that really stood out to me. The White Sox (Tuesday-Thursday) and Braves (Friday-Sunday) visit for three games apiece.
- First, we get a rare interleague visit from the White Sox as our friend Adam Dunn returns to Nationals Park for the first time since 2010. It will be great to catch up with Adam and reminisce about his time here. Remember, he twice hit 38 home runs and drove in more than 100 runs here, so it is worth remembering just how fun it was watching Adam hit in a Nationals uniform. And on top of that, he has a beautiful family and is a class act off the field.
- Then the Braves come to town over the weekend for three games. This NL East matchup should provide great theater, not only this weekend, but for all 18 matchups this season. We will get our first glance at the “Chipper-less” Braves, who restocked themselves by acquiring B.J. and Justin Upton during the offseason. This will be a homecoming of sorts for the Upton brothers, who likely have not played together near their home of Norfolk, Virginia since their high school days. Beyond the Uptons, I am especially looking forward to Saturday’s Strasburg-Tim Hudson matchup at Nationals Park.
- Kudos to Denard Span (.444 on-base percentage), Kurt Suzuki (two doubles and a homer in three starts) and Tyler Clippard (has retired nine of 10 batters faced in three appearances to date) on their strong starts.
I hope to see you all at the ballpark wearing your red.
Until we blog again …
So far, so good in 2013. Washington is off to a 3-0 start for the first time in five seasons and stands alone atop the NL East. And before you go belittling the fact that the only team they’ve beaten so far is the Marlins, think back for a moment to the beginning of last year.
The Nationals also got off to a good start in 2012, but they were unable to fully put away any of their early season opponents, setting themselves up to sweep a series 10 times before finally sealing the deal. Of course, considering the litany of injuries the team weathered, particularly through the season’s first half, it was impressive that the Nationals were ever in a position to be able to sweep anyone in the first place.
Just look back at the roster in the beginning of the 2012 season. Mark DeRosa was the Opening Day left fielder. Brad Lidge was the closer. Bryce Harper was still in Syracuse. Michael Morse and Drew Storen did not come back to Washington until mid-season, while watching Ian Desmond, Wilson Ramos, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman all hit the disabled list before their return.
The story has been much different so far this year (knock on wood). The Opening Day lineup most fans envisioned when they saw the club for the first time this year at NatsFest was the actual Opening Day lineup on the field in D.C. on April 1. With the young and untested Marlins first up on the schedule, a sweep was almost expected, as unfair as that may be.
And yet, the Nats lived up to that expectation. At the end of four days of play, they are the lone remaining undefeated team in Major League Baseball.
Of course, the season is long, and will no doubt take its twists and turns, with players missing time here and there for the various bumps and bruises that come with the territory of a 162-game slate. The jokes about 162-0 will soon be forgotten, whenever the team drops its first contest of the year.
Washington encounters its first true test tonight, facing off with the defending National League Central Champion Reds in Cincinnati. With a lineup of mashers, especially from the left side, it seems unlikely that the Nationals will be able to count on allowing only a single earned run over three games in this series. It will be a tough first assignment for Dan Haren, but one that he no doubt welcomes as he – and the Nats – hit the road healthy here at the outset of the season.
Miami Marlins (0-2) vs. Washington Nationals (2-0)
LHP Wade LeBlanc (0-0) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (0-0)
Washington aims for a season-opening sweep as the Nationals face the Marlins in a rare, midweek mid-afternoon affair at Nationals Park. Miami has yet to score through the first two games of the season against the Nats pitching staff.
1. Span CF
2. Werth RF
3. Harper LF
4. Zimmerman 3B
5. LaRoche 1B
6. Desmond SS
7. Espinosa 2B
8. Ramos C
9. Zimmermann RHP
LUCKY NUMBER 13
According to Elias, the Nationals became just the 13th team since 1900 to open the season with consecutive shutouts, blanking the Marlins 3-0 after a 2-0 Opening Day whitewash. It also marks the first time any team in Expos/Nationals history has accomplished the feat. The last MLB team to turn the trick was the 2002 Arizona Diamondbacks.
Gio Gonzalez became the just the third pitcher in franchise history, and the second since the team moved to The District, to throw at least six scoreless innings and homer in the same game. He joins Floyd Youmans (6.8.86 vs. Philadelphia) and Livan Hernandez (9.14.10 at Atlanta) on the short list.
UNTUCK YOU TO SLEEP
Rafael Soriano closed out his second save in as many games, allowing a hit and a walk in a scoreless ninth inning. In 12 career appearances at Nationals Park, the reliever has a 1.59 ERA (2 ER/11.1 IP) and has converted all seven of his save opportunities.
Miami Marlins (0-1) vs. Washington Nationals (1-0)
RHP Kevin Slowey (0-0) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (0-0)
The Nationals and Marlins had Tuesday off following Opening Day on Monday. Washington rode a pair of blasts off the bat of Bryce Harper and a combined, three-hit shutout from Stephen Strasburg, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano to a 2-0 victory in the first game of the regular season.
1. Span CF
2. Werth RF
3. Harper LF
4. Zimmerman 3B
5. LaRoche 1B
6. Desmond SS
7. Espinosa 2B
8. Suzuki C
9. Gonzalez LHP
Washington blanked Miami, 2-0, in Monday’s season opener at Nationals Park. Stephen Strasburg earned his first Opening Day win with 7.0 scoreless innings, during which he allowed just three hits, walked none, struck out three and required just 80 pitches. Bryce Harper homered twice to account for both Nationals runs. Rafael Soriano struck out a pair during a perfect ninth to notch the save in his Nationals debut. Ryan Zimmerman started his 8th straight opener at third base for
Washington and he kept the Fish off the scoreboard with a dazzling play to end the first inning. The Opening Day shutout was the first registered by a team from Washington since 1971, when the final incarnation of the Senators blanked the A’s, 8-0, at RFK. The game was played in front of the largest regular season crowd (45,274 – sellout) in Nationals Park’s six-year history.
HARPER’S HISTORY MAKER
Not only did Harper become the youngest player in MLB history to homer twice on Opening Day, he did so by going deep in his first two at-bats of the season. Thus, he became the first player to homer in his first two at-bats of a season since the Pirates’ Garrett Jones turned the trick in 2010. Harper also became just the third defending Rookie of the Year to blast two home runs on Opening Day (Boston’s Carlton Fisk Carlton in 1973, Los Angeles (NL)’s Raul Mondesi in 1995).
GO GO GIO
Gio Gonzalez makes his 2013 debut at Nationals Park after throwing the home opener in D.C. last season. In that game, against the eventual NL Central Champion Cincinnati Reds, Gonzalez allowed just two hits without a walk, fanning seven over 7.0 scoreless frames to earn the first of his MLB-high 21 victories.
Opening Day brought Nationals fans plenty of early-season excitement, from Bryce Harper’s power display, to Stephen Strasburg’s quiet dominance, culminating in Rafael Soriano’s closing introduction.
Each of those performances were thrilling in their own way, but going back to the beginning of Spring Training, none were as unexpected and inspiring as Wilson Ramos earning the Opening Day start behind the plate.
When pitchers and catchers reported to Viera, Florida on February 11, Ramos was just easing his way into action after recovering from a right knee injury suffered last May in Cincinnati. The damage required two surgeries, with the repair to his anterior cruciate ligament not taking place until July 18 – leaving just seven months until the start of camp.
With such a brief amount of recovery and rehabilitation time, the common question was not whether Ramos would able to start on April 1 against the Miami Marlins, but if he had progressed enough to land on the Major League roster or instead would begin the year on the disabled list.
Slowly but surely, Ramos began erasing doubts. The 25-year-old Venezuelan caught his first bullpen session on February 14, then participated in sliding drills on March 2. He made his first in-game catching appearance March 5 during a Spring Training contest against the Houston Astros, then caught a full game for the first time on March 22 – just 10 days before Opening Day.
His breakthrough occurred with five days to go. In a March 27 split-squad game against the Atlanta Braves, Ramos belted two mammoth home runs, driving home four runs in the 11-2 victory. No longer saddled with concerns about his knee, Ramos was able to cut loose with his swing, displaying the power that made him one of baseball’s top hitting catchers during the 2011 season. He was almost all the way back.
Then, at 1:09 p.m. on Monday, it became official. Given a “carrot for hard work” by manager Davey Johnson, Ramos found himself catching Strasburg’s gem and batting eighth in Johnson’s lineup. He drew a walk in his first plate appearance, then singled sharply through the hole on the left side of the infield in his second. He masterfully blocked balls in the dirt. He caught a laser of a throw from Harper in the seventh inning, then fired to first base, trapping Placido Polanco in a rundown. Eventually, he tagged out Giancarlo Stanton trying to score to complete the rare 7-2-3-4-2 double play, helping Strasburg out of his only jam of the afternoon.
Ramos will rest every other day to start the season, sharing time with Kurt Suzuki and continuing to build up strength. But now, unlike the beginning of spring, the common question is not whether or not Ramos will play, but what he might be able to accomplish now that he’s back behind the plate.
None of us know how this season will end. That would, after all, defeat the purpose of the six-month odyssey that lays before us: the highs and lows, anticipation, frustration, elation, and satisfaction that only a baseball season can bring. But on Monday, we at least learned how this story would start.
And it was hard to imagine a more perfect beginning.
Bryce Harper’s first swing of the season connected with a hanging curveball out of Ricky Nolasco’s hand, soared 400 feet through the Washington spring air and landed in the right field bleachers. In his second at-bat, Harper punished another Nolasco breaking ball, depositing it within 50 feet of his original blast. Two at-bats, two home runs for the defending Rookie of the Year. He couldn’t have scripted a better beginning to his sophomore season.
Meanwhile, Stephen Strasburg allowed a single to start the game, then set down the next 19 Marlins batters, mostly on a combination of weak groundouts and lazy fly balls. He was not the overwhelming, 14-strikeout Strasburg of his 2010 debut, but he was just as dominant, allowing only three hits over seven scoreless frames.
Tyler Clippard fired a scoreless eighth and newly-acquired Rafael Soriano came on for his first save opportunity in the ninth, with Harper’s two runs of offense still representing the game’s only scoring to that point. Soriano rang up the Marlins 1-2-3 hitters with a pair of strikeouts in the ninth, freezing Miami star Giancarlo Stanton for strike three to put the first Curly W of 2013 in the books.
As we all catch our breath Tuesday, the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day fading into our rear-view mirror, we know not every day will like the first this season. But if the first taste of the season is a harbinger of anything to come, Nationals fans have plenty to be excited about this season.
Most of the time, fans see the intense, serious, NATITUDE-driven photo work we do with our players during Spring Training. So with the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day in the books, relax and enjoy the latest in our digital features, the lighter side behind the scenes with many of your favorite Nationals players.