NEW YORK - Let’s run through everything that happened yesterday at Citi Field, shall we?
In Matt Williams’ first game as a big league manager, he had his star left fielder, Bryce Harper, take a shin to the head in the second inning, leaving him lying flat on his back for a couple minutes as trainers tended to him. Williams had his cleanup hitter and catcher, Wilson Ramos, leave the game with a hand injury, the severity of which is not yet known.
He saw his ace, Stephen Strasburg, give up four runs in his first two innings of the season, then settle in and casually strike out 10. He saw his stud late-inning reliever, Tyler Clippard, give up a home run to a guy - Juan Lagares - who hit four homers all of last year.
The Nationals trailed 3-0 after the first, 4-2 after the second and 5-4 after the eighth, yet they kept coming back. They got some assistance from the Mets’ relievers, who apparently didn’t feel like throwing a strike in the seventh inning.
In the top of the ninth, with the Nats down by one and two outs, Danny Espinosa came out to pinch-hit for his first plate appearance of the season. He quickly fell behind 1-2, then proceeded to scratch and claw and spit on pitches just off the plate and eventually draw an eight-pitch walk to keep the Nats alive.
“I feel like that was the at-bat that won the game for us,” Denard Span said.
Span then did his part, as well, smoking a first-pitch double to left-center, scoring the tying run and sending boos raining down upon the Mets from their home faithful. Tie game.
Who would the Nats turn to in the bottom of the ninth in a tie game with opening day on the line? Oh, how about Aaron Barrett, the rookie making his big league debut who four years ago had the yips and struggled to find the strike zone? The 26-year-old responded with a dominant 1-2-3 frame with two strikeouts, of course.
No big deal. Bring on extras.
In the 10th, back-to-back hits from Jayson Werth and Jose Lobaton set the table, and Ian Desmond brought in the go-ahead run with a sac fly. But the Nats weren’t done. Rendon clubbed a three-run homer to left, causing the visiting dugout to go nuts and sending Mets fans streaming for the exits. Then, Williams got in his first regular season challenge (although he gave the challenge careful consideration because he said he didn’t want to seem like he was rubbing it in), when he asked the umpires to review a close play at first base in which Espinosa was called out. The call on the field was upheld.
As if enough hadn’t already happened, Nats lefty Jerry Blevins added a little extra drama by surrendering a two-run homer in the bottom of the 10th before shutting the door in a 9-7 Nats win.
Exhale, Mr. Williams. Exhale, Nats fans.
“Right in the thick of it,” Williams said afterward, following his first game as a big league skipper. “I’ll probably sleep really good tonight.”
There was enough packed into that opener that it felt like a week’s worth of action all in one day. The Harper incident must have scared the heck out of Williams, seeing his star outfielder sprawled out on the infield dirt. Harper said afterward that while he had a bad headache, he passed two concussion tests, one after the collision with Eric Young Jr., and one after the game.
The injury to Ramos is just awful, especially considering how many injury issues the 26-year-old has needed to deal with the last few seasons. We’ll wait for word on the Nats’ catcher as he goes to see the team’s hand specialist today after preliminary X-rays yesterday came back negative, according to Williams.
The injuries were scary. The comebacks were thrilling, especially the way the Nats stayed patient in the seventh and battled through at-bats in the ninth.
Seventeen of the Nats’ 25 players appeared in yesterday’s game. Of the 11 position players who got a plate appearance, 10 reached base at least once. Rendon had four RBIs. Adam LaRoche hit a monster homer. Drew Storen struck out two in an inning of relief.
It was chaotic. It was long. It was exciting.
“Everybody contributed, some way or the other,” Span said. “Whether it was a walk by Danny, Barrett coming in and shutting the door, Drew Storen shutting the door. Everybody that filled the lineup card today played a part in this win. It was just a good team win.”
Only 161 to go.