The Washington Nationals’ 4-0 win over the New York Mets today was like a Clint Eastwood movie. It had moments that were good, umpiring that was bad, and hitting with runners in scoring position that was just plain ugly.
Yet, somehow, the game was beautiful.
The beauty of Stephen Strasburg, without a full season in the major leagues, battling through an inability to locate his fastball and frustration over home plate umpire Larry Vanover’s first tiny, then wildly inconsistent strike zone. He displayed the patience and guile of a veteran, working out of jams in the first and sixth innings to pitch six shutout innings with nine strikeouts. He threw 108 pitches, a huge workload this early in the season. His next start in five days will bear close scrutiny to see how his arm recovers.
Also beautiful is the Nationals heading into tomorrow afternoon’s home opener with a 4-2 record after a season-opening winning road trip. Victorious multi-city trips have been as rare as snow in April for Washington over the past eight years.
Nationals’ relievers Ryan Mattheus, Sean Burnett, and Henry Rodriguez pitched an inning apiece and preserved Strasburg’s shutout and first victory of 2012. Each had two strikeouts, giving Nationals pitchers 15 for the game. It appears the days when the Nationals had nothing but soft tossers on the staff are in the past. For the series, Nats’ pitchers earned 32 strikeouts.
Offensively, the Nationals today looked like the 1959 Chicago White Sox, otherwise known as the “Hitless Wonders.” They scored four runs on a wild pitch, a groundout, and two bases loaded walks. Washington put 19 men on base and, somehow, only scored those four times.
Continuing a disturbing trend from last season, the Nationals went 1-14 with runners in scoring position. For the series, the Nats went 7-36 (.194). Of those 29 outs, nine were strikeouts. Two other times, the Nationals hit into double plays, albeit one was a Xavier Nady line drive. For their part, the Mets went 0-6 with runners in scoring position today.
Nevertheless, though ugly at times, the Nationals’ winning road trip should result in an enthusiastic crowd to welcome baseball back to Washington tomorrow afternoon in the club’s home opener. Look for the moment Wilson Ramos is introduced to be especially noteworthy.
Champ of the Game: Strasburg, who battled for a veteran-like six shutout innings, keeping the Nationals in the lead.
For the Mets, it was Johan Santana, who gave up one run (on a wild pitch) with eight strikeouts in five innings. His successful return is good news for New York, bad for the Nats and their NL East counterparts.
Chump of the Game: The Nationals’ hitters, who came up empty with multiple chances to blow the game open. Their patience in getting 10 walks, however, is a positive development as, in 2011, their free-swinging ways often killed rallies. If they can combine patience with a better performance with runners in scoring position, they will miss Michael Morse less (but they already miss the Beast’s bat in the line-up).
For the Mets, their bullpen gave up seven walks, turning a close game into a non-save situation for Rodriguez.
Vanover also deserves a “chump” rating for his unfathomable strike zone that nearly unglued Strasburg and confused hitter and pitcher alike the entire contest. Nationals’ radio team Charlie Slowes and Dave Jaegler suggested Vanover might want to review the tape of his uneven performance.