Nats on kneeling with black ribbon as symbol of unity prior to national anthem

Nationals players and coaching staff knelt down prior to the national anthem on opening night alongside the Yankees, holding a black ribbon that extended from the left field foul pole around home plate all the way out to the right field foul pole at Nationals Park.

The moment was planned and agreed upon by all involved to be a unifying show of support for Black Lives Matter, and to raise awareness of the issues of police brutality and injustice toward Black people that has been rampant in the United States for a long time.

"It was emotional," closer Sean Doolittle said on a postgame Zoom call Thursday night. "I thought it was powerful. I thought it was important for us and for the Yankees that everybody bought in and we had full participation and presented a united front during that moment, holding the ribbon and kneeling to show support for the other athletes that have done it in other sports and so far in baseball, (and) to show support of the movement that black lives matter and ending police brutality, racism and injustice."

Nats-Kneeling-Holding-Ribbon-Sidebar.jpgDoolittle said the idea for kneeling with the ribbon was something the players' union worked on with Major League Baseball. The kneeling by everyone in uniform on field was something both teams came up with over the last few days, Doolittle said. Both teams had team meetings about it. The closer said they had one final meeting early Thursday before batting practice just so everybody would be on the same page.

"I was proud to be a part of it," he said.

Manager Davey Martinez said it was unifying show of support that the Nationals wanted to make sure they accomplished as a team. The Yankees were all in as well. Martinez explained about the meeting he had with his players during planning for the moment.

"I got together with our players and talked about what might transpire and how we wanted to handle this," Martinez said. "We definitely wanted to be united through this whole thing. We know there are issues in this country and we need changes. We need changes for the better. These guys all understand that. We got together. We kneeled through the ceremony. We decided we would all stand up during the anthem. It was something that all of us agreed upon and I thought it turned out as good as it gets. This is for a major cause. We believe in it. We did what we could."

Starting pitcher Max Scherzer was in the bullpen getting ready for the start, so he could not be right next to his teammates during the kneeling event, but he echoed the sentiments of Doolittle that it was a moment that was very important for both teams, and a symbol of how they all felt together on the subject. The circular scoreboard ribbon above the Bud Light Loft scrolled "#MLB #BLM" before the game.

"Just everybody was unified and everybody did the same thing at once," Scherzer said. "One person wasn't more than the other. But those are the issues at hand. I think we addressed them. Hopefully, we can get back to just playing baseball. That's what I love the most, just playing baseball."

* The Nats were unable to generate much offense on opening night thanks to Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. He allowed one hit, a soaring solo shot to right field by Adam Eaton in the first inning that cut the Yankees lead to 2-1. The Yankees won the game 4-1 in a rain-abbreviated five innings. Just like in the World Series, Martinez knew how good Cole can be; Cole was again on Thursday night, twirling five innings, allowing one run on one hit with one walk and five strikeouts.

"He's tough," Martinez said. "Gerrit is tough. We know that. We faced him a couple of times in the World Series. We know he throws high fastballs. We know he throws a good slider, good changeup. The key is when you get a fastball to hit you got to be ready to hit it. He was good. He was around the plate.

"He was throwing strikes. He was up in the upper 90s mph, couple balls threw it 99 mph. Tough opponent. I know Eaton saw the ball well, hit the ball well. Couple guys hit the ball fairly well. Hoping to keep the game close as we got to the late innings and then see what happens."

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