WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Washington Nationals edged the Atlanta Braves 3-2 in the stateside season-opener on Sunday, allowing the league, fans and players to forget, at least temporarily, the sport’s scandal-scarred winter.
Ryan Zimmerman belted a two-out solo home run into the left field stands in the bottom of the ninth to give the Nationals the dramatic triumph.
Right-hander Peter Moylan took the loss for the Braves after serving up Zimmerman’s game-winner. Until Zimmerman’s hit, the fourth walk-off homer of his career, the Braves had retired 24 straight Nationals.
“It was a fast ball up and I put a good swing on it,” said Zimmerman. “I’ve never hit the ball out of the infield against that guy so I was just trying to get a base hit.
“I knew I hit it well but I didn’t know if it was going to be high enough. I thought it might hit off the wall. I was talking to it a little bit on the way to first.”
President Bush threw out the ceremonial first pitch to a smattering of cheers and jeers from the sold-out crowd of more than 39,000 at the Nationals’ new $611 million ballpark on the banks of the Anacostia River.
Atlanta was down to its last out in the top of the ninth before tying the score at 2-2 when Mark Teixeria scored from third on a passed ball by Washington catcher Paul Lo Duca.
But Zimmerman’s heroics gave Washington a win in its home opener for the first time since baseball returned to Washington in 2005 after a 34-year absence.
“It was a great way to win it, with a great guy up, a franchise player,” said Nationals manager Manny Acta. “I didn’t want to see the victory escape in the ninth.
“I couldn’t have written a script any better.”
Commissioner Bud Selig told reporters during the game baseball was still working on a solution to the problem of drugs in sport.
“We have the toughest testing program in American sports, we’re tightening it even more,” he said.
“We’ve hired somebody independently who’s made a lot of recommendations... (But) I don’t delude myself for one second (the job is finished).”
Former senator George Mitchell released a baseball-commissioned report last December detailing nearly 100 players he believed used performance-enhancing drugs.
The ensuing months have been rife with admissions, denials, finger-pointing and congressional hearings — all of which have served to divert the spotlight from the season’s opening.
Washington delighted the home crowd by scoring two runs in the first off starter Tim Hudson on a run-scoring double by Nick Johnson and an RBI single by Austin Kearns.
Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones trimmed the lead to 2-1 with a fourth-inning solo home run to left after Nationals starter Odalis Perez hung a fast-ball out over the plate.
Baseball’s regular season started last week in Japan when the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics split a pair of games.
Editing by Peter Rutherford