Rick Snider: For the Nationals, this could be the start of something wonderful

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Rick Snider

It was a day of goosebumps.

From a trophy case of hardware being handed out for the past season during pregame ceremonies to Medal of Honor recipient Clint Romesha throwing out the first pitch, a frenzied crowd that arrived more than two hours early Monday was ready to celebrate what is just getting started.

Welcome to the season of high expectations.

The Washington Nationals opened with a 2-0 victory over the Miami Marlins before 45,274 at Nationals Park, a game that took just 2 hours, 10 minutes thanks to two swings accounting for the game's scoring. Fans might have wished for a longer afternoon away from work, but the workmanlike victory was appreciated.

The long-envisioned Stephen Strasburg-Bryce Harper combination was indeed the double trouble expected. Harper hit two home runs. Strasburg allowed three hits in seven innings. The former No. 1 picks dominated, making those distant 100-loss seasons that allowed the Nationals to draft the tandem seeming like a smart investment now.

Who needs Racing Presidents anymore with this type of mesmerizing act? Well, actually the quintet helped break a trance during some quick, quiet innings. New runner Bill Taft was denied a victory by Teddy, who knocked his rival down. Those two are going to have a season-long rivalry, with the others simply consolation winners.

Oversized dead presidents are no longer a main event anymore. Not with Harper and Strasburg.

Harper hit the second pitch he saw for a 1-0 first-inning lead that would be enough on a day in which three Nats pitchers combined for a shutout. But Harper followed with another homer in the fourth, locating the ball just a few rows from the earlier shot. A curtain call not even midway through the game?

Fans love Harper, who was playing in his first Opening Day. He even got a standing ovation after flying out in the sixth. Nearly two-thirds of the Nationals Park record regular-season crowd stayed for the end of the eighth to see Harper once more. This time he fouled out. Fans probably thought it was still worth the wait.

Meanwhile, Strasburg was just plowing through the Marlins' lineup. After allowing a single to leadoff hitter Juan Pierre, Strasburg retired 19 straight. Thoughts of 27 straight outs finally ended when Strasburg allowed a double and single in the seventh before inducing an inning-ending double play.

Strasburg was scary good. It probably was not his sharpest effort, and he still outsmarted the Marlins and averaged in the mid-90s with his fastball. Maybe this is the 20-win season Washington has awaited from its best pitcher since Walter Johnson a century ago.

Past years would have seen the crowd bolt in the seventh to beat commuters home. This time most fans stayed to the final pitch. This is a season to relish every game.

After all, Harper and Strasburg are just getting started.

Examiner columnist Rick Snider has covered local sports since 1978. Read more on Twitter @Snide_Remarks or email rsnider@washingtonexaminer.com.

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