Strasburg dominates as Nationals beat Cubs 2-1

By Andrew Seligman

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, April 5 2012 4:51 p.m. MDT

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg delivers during the second inning of an opening day baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, April 5, 2012, in Chicago.

Charles Rex Arbogast, Associated Press

CHICAGO — Stephen Strasburg could hardly wait for this one.

His first opener, at Wrigley Field for the first time.

"Just to think about all the Hall of Famers who have played here.it's an honor," he said.

It's even better on days like this.

Strasburg dominated the Cubs for seven innings, and Ian Desmond singled in the go-ahead run in the ninth on a windy Thursday to give the Washington Nationals a 2-1 win over Chicago.

Strasburg allowed one run and five hits, including an RBI single to Marlon Byrd in the fourth. He was pinch hit for in the eighth, when Kerry Wood forced in the tying run with three straight walks, and did not figure in the decision.

Washington went ahead in the ninth when Chad Tracy hit a two-out double off the right-field wall against Carlos Marmol (0-1), and Desmond followed with his third hit.

Strasburg struck out five and walked one. He reached 98 mph when he struck out Starlin Castro in the sixth.

Ryan Dempster, making his fourth opening start, was just as dominant, striking out 10 in 7 2-3 innings.

Chicago started its first season since Theo Epstein was hired away from Boston in hopes of helping the Cubs win their first World Series title since 1908.

Tyler Clippard (1-0) worked a scoreless eighth to win in relief. Brad Lidge gave up one-out triple off the right-field wall by Ian Stewart in the ninth but got the save in his Nationals debut when pinch-runner Joe Mather was thrown out trying to score on a grounder to third and Byrd ended the game by taking a called third strike.

"The tone has been set," Desmond said. "When we came to spring training, we were all itching to get there. When we all showed up early, that set the tone. We've been chomping at the bit to get out there. It was definitely exciting."

Dempster allowed a single by Desmond on the game's first pitch, then didn't allow another hit until Desmond singled with one out in the eighth. Dempster left to a standing ovation after striking out Danny Espinosa, but the cheers quickly faded,

Wood came on and walked Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and then Jayson Werth on a 3-2 pitch after getting ahead 0-2, sending a loud groan through the ballpark.

"There were a couple that could have gone either way," Wood said.

The big question for the Cubs is where they go from here.

Optimism isn't hard to find around Wrigleyville these days even if the anticipation is more for what happens down the road than this season. The arrival of Epstein along with new general manager Jed Hoyer sparked hope among championship-starved fans, and the newcomers have certainly have been busy. They hired Dale Sveum to replace Mike Quade as manager, traded the troubled Carlos Zambrano to Miami and parted ways with slugger Aramis Ramirez.

They've made it clear they intend to stock the farm system while trying to remain competitive now. That might be a stretch for a team in transition even if there's new hope at the moment.

""There are dozens and dozens and dozens of people — the players first of all — working extremely hard to bring this organization forward," Epstein said.

NOTES: Noted Cubs fan Bill Murray had some fun before the game. He ran around the bases and threw the ball to Wood at home before sliding across the plate. He then bounced the ceremonial first pitch. Murray also said the Cubs would win every game before leading the seventh-inning rendition of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game." ... The Cubs held 1B Bryan LaHair out of the starting lineup because of a minor nerve issue in his back that's been bothering him the past few days. Jeff Baker started in his place. LaHair thinks he will be available off the bench Saturday and back in the lineup on Sunday. ... Matt Garza is scheduled to start Saturday for the Cubs against Gio Gonzalez. ... Nationals RHP Chien-Ming Wang (hamstring) and RHP Drew Storen (elbow) flew to Florida on Thursday to begin rehab at the spring training complex. Storen is already throwing off of the mound and Wang is 3-4 days away, manager Davey Johnson said. He expects them to be activated by the end of April.

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