One year ago, Chad Tracy tried to keep his career alive in Japan, halfway out of baseball and halfway around the world. Saturday afternoon, after another crucial hit keyed another delirious rally that led to another Washington Nationals victory, Tracy became, briefly, the No. 2 Twitter trending topic in the United States.
Two games in, the Nationals' season has already reached this level of absurdity? They already believe they can win without offense from innings from one through seven? When their biggest offseason acquisition can't survive four innings?
Why not? The Nationals' madcap opening weekend continued Saturday afternoon with a 7-4 victory over the Chicago Cubs and their flammable bullpen. Washington again entered the eighth inning with a deficit and a dead offense, and again it won. The Nationals' five-run rally — sparked by Danny Espinosa's solo home run and Tracy's two-run, go-ahead single — bailed out Gio Gonzalez after he allowed four runs in 32/3 laborious innings.
Tracy was not the only hero, not even close. First baseman Adam LaRoche, after striking out three times on Opening Day, smacked four hits, including a two-run homer — his first home run since last April — that kept the Nationals in the game. Craig Stammen relieved Gonzalez and pitched 21/3 scoreless innings, and Tyler Clippard, Ryan Mattheus and Henry Rodriguez — recording his first save while hitting 101 mph on the stadium radar gun — each followed with a scoreless inning.
The game-winning rally almost never happened. The Nationals had two outs with the bases empty in the eighth, trailing 4-2, when Espinosa fouled off four consecutive two-strike pitches from Cubs reliever Kerry Wood. After Espinosa launched a 96 mph fastball over the left-field fence, eight consecutive Nationals reached base and they took a 7-4 lead.
Ryan Zimmerman and LaRoche knocked out Wood out of the game with two singles. In came closer Carlos Marmol. Jayson Werth drew a five-pitch walk, loading the bases for Tracy, who had just entered as a pinch-hitter. Thursday, Tracy's two-out double kept the Nationals alive in the ninth. Saturday, his single through the right side gave the Nationals a lead they would not relinquish.
In his first start with the Nationals, Gonzalez could not get out of the fourth inning. He flashed the pitching arsenal that convinced the Nationals to ship four prospects to the Oakland Athletics to acquire him, striking out five and throwing boomerang curveballs. But he also allowed four runs on seven hits and three walks, laboring to throw 74 pitches.
After Stephen Strasburg gave an 82-pitch, seven-inning lesson in efficiency on Opening Day, Gonzalez threw eight fewer pitches and recorded 10 fewer outs.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun