CHICAGO - Was this really opening day? Are we sure, given the weather and the intensity in the late innings, that we didn’t hop in a time machine and end up in October?
(Insert your jokes about the Cubs having no shot at October.)
(Cubs fans, insert your jokes about the Nationals not being able to joke about postseason appearances just yet.)
This sure had the feel of a game with a lot more riding on it than just who would get opening day bragging rights. The quality of the pitching on both sides, the late-game theatrics with teams battling against the opposing side’s closer, the non-stop noise coming from the 41,176 at Wrigley Field - it gave this one a do-or-die vibe to it.
“It seemed like a playoff game,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “It really did.”
“I mean, it was a great ball game,” manager Davey Johnson added. “If you didn’t like that ball game, you don’t like baseball. Every pitch meant something.”
Every pitch really meant something in the eighth and ninth innings, as the two teams traded dramatic at-bats with the game on the line.
The Nats were able to put themselves in a position to tie the game against starter Ryan Dempster (who was exceptional today) and reliever Kerry Wood in the eighth. Ian Desmond reached on a one-out single off Dempster, and then three straight Nats - Ryan Zimmerman, LaRoche and Jayson Werth - drew walks off Wood. Werth’s free pass pushed in Desmond with the tying run, knotting the score.
Werth, who was 0-for-3 entering that at-bat in the eighth, fell behind 0-2 before watching four straight pitches sail out of the zone.
“The last pitch came out of his hand funny,” Werth said. “It was a ball out of the hand. So that made that easy.”
In the ninth, Chad Tracy delivered a two-out double to right off Cubs closer Carlos Marmol, which Desmond followed up by flaring a single to right, bringing in pinch-runner Brett Carroll with the winning run.
“I just wanted to get that slider up in the zone and stay on top of it,” Desmond said. “Hitting the ball in the air today was pretty useless. I just wanted to hit the hardest groundball I could. I pulled off it a little bit, but it worked.”
Even Brad Lidge’s save wasn’t a smooth one, as he gave up a one-out triple to right off the bat of Ian Stewart before getting out of the jam.
“The fans were into it, of course. You expect nothing less here in a tight one-run game like that,” Lidge said. “It did kind of have that (playoff) atmosphere and that environment. You’re going to play a lot of games that don’t have that feel, but today did, and our guys coming through in a one-run game like that ... that’s huge.”