Harper, Strasburg lead Nationals over Marlins 2-0

For Bryce Harper, two homers in his first two at-bats, and even

some ”M-V-P!” chants. For Stephen Strasburg, 19 consecutive outs

during one stretch of seven scoreless innings.

And for the defending NL East champion Washington Nationals, a

2-0 victory over the Miami Marlins on Monday in Game 1 of a season

lame-duck manager Davey Johnson declared months ago should be

defined as ”World Series or bust.”

Harper, the 20-year-old left fielder coming off NL Rookie of the

Year honors, hit solo shots over the out-of-town scoreboard in

right-center field off Ricky Nolasco in the first and fourth

innings. He sprinted around the bases both times, and after his

second trip, he climbed back out of the dugout for a curtain call,

pumping his right fist.

It was Harper’s first taste of opening day; he began last year

in the minors before getting called up.

For Strasburg (1-0), this marked the start of what should be his

first full season in the majors, with zero pitch or inning limits.

The All-Star ace, shut down before the stretch run in September and

division series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012, was

dominant against a trade-depleted Marlins lineup that features

Giancarlo Stanton and little else.

The right-hander went seven innings, matching his career high,

and allowed three hits. Pitching to contact more than in the past,

Strasburg used his electric, high-90s mph stuff for three

strikeouts and did not walk a batter.

Harper and Strasburg are only the second pair of No. 1 overall

picks in baseball’s June amateur draft to start an opening-day game

for the team that chose them, and the 100-loss seasons in 2008 and

2009 that gave Washington the right to those selections seem quite

distant nowadays.

Before the game, the Nationals celebrated their 98-win 2012 by

unveiling a sign atop the outfield scoreboard that proclaims them

”NL East Division Champions.” They also honored Harper for his

rookie honor, Johnson for his NL Manager of the Year award, and

recipients of Gold Glove and Silver Slugger trophies.

A regular-season Nationals Park-record crowd of 45,274 roared

during player introductions and kept on clapping and yelling

through the game. They gave Harper a standing ovation when he

stepped to the plate in the sixth inning for his third at-bat

against Nolasco (0-1). Ever unpredictable, Harper squared up to

bunt, taking a ball, and wound up with a flyout to left.

Nolasco gave up two runs and three hits in six innings, with

five strikeouts and two walks.

Juan Pierre led off the game by singling to center off

Strasburg, and that was all the Marlins could muster until the

seventh inning. That’s when Stanton – who else, on a team with a

payroll under $45 million – doubled to left, ending the streak of

19 plate appearances, 19 outs for Miami.

Placido Polanco followed with an infield single, putting runners

on the corners. The next batter, Rob Brantly, hit a fly to Harper

in left. Harper threw home, but Stanton didn’t go. Instead, Polanco

strayed off first base, and wound up getting caught in a rundown.

Eventually, Stanton did try to score, but he was thrown out for an

odd-as-can-be double play officially scored 7-2-3-4-2.

With some sprinkles falling, and Strasburg done after 80

pitches, 52 for strikes, Johnson turned to his bullpen, considered

a strength of the team last year until blowing a two-run lead in

the ninth inning against the Cardinals in Game 5.

On Monday, Tyler Clippard came on for the eighth and worked

around a walk. New closer Rafael Soriano, signed as a free agent

after replacing an injured Mariano Rivera for the Yankees last

season, came on with a perfect ninth and struck out two.

He showed Nationals fans his typical save celebration, too,

untucking his jersey after pointing to the sky.

NOTES: The biggest crowd in Nationals Park history was the

45,966 for the final playoff game against St. Louis in October. …

In Harper’s fourth at-bat, Marlins 1B Casey Kotchman leaned over a

dugout railing to make a nice catch of a foul pop. … Nolasco

dominated the Nationals in his last two starts against them last

year, with two complete-game shutouts in Marlins victories.

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