Capital back in the game

Nationals win home opener

Posted: Friday, April 15, 2005

 

  President Bush winds up to throw the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Washington National-Arizona Diamonback games, Thursday, April 14, 2005 at RFK Stadium in Washington, bringing Major Leage Baseball back to Washington after 34 years. AP Photo/Haraz Ghanbari

President Bush winds up to throw the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Washington National-Arizona Diamonback games, Thursday, April 14, 2005 at RFK Stadium in Washington, bringing Major Leage Baseball back to Washington after 34 years.

AP Photo/Haraz Ghanbari

WASHINGTON — Vinny Castilla's triple rattled around in the right-field corner, bringing home the first major league runs in this city in 34 years. Most of the 45,596 fans rose and jumped in place, making ol' RFK Stadium sway once again.

The national pastime was back in the nation's capital.

Castilla had three hits and four RBIs, Livan Hernandez was nearly flawless until the ninth, and the first-place Nationals beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-3 Thursday night in Washington's first regular-season baseball game since Sept. 30, 1971.

And the baseball-starved fans cheered everything, although a smattering of boos was heard when President Bush strode to the mound in a team jacket to throw out the ceremonial first pitch — for the record, it was a bit high.

They cheered fireworks before and after the game, they cheered the introduction of clubhouse manager Mike Wallace, they cheered the called strike Hernandez threw to Craig Counsell at 7:06 p.m. to begin the game.

Baseball is all about getting home, and this was an all-day celebration of a team long hoping for a stable residence and a city yearning for a tenant. Baseball fans in Washington hadn't been able to root, root, root for the home team since the Senators left for Texas after the 1971 season.

This franchise had a trying existence the past few years as the Montreal Expos. First, they were destined to be folded. Then, they were forced to play 22 ''home'' games in Puerto Rico the past two seasons.

Even when Major League Baseball — which owns the franchise — decided to shift the Expos to the District, it took drawn-out negotiations with the city council to solidify the $581 million deal that includes a to-be-built stadium.

''I think of everything we went through,'' commissioner Bud Selig said. ''The turmoil, the travail — it was all worth it.''

Nationals players entered the ballpark at 1:58 p.m., walking two-by-two down the right-field line, looking around and taking it all in, some with crisp white home jerseys over their street clothes. They were coming from a $1,500-per-table Welcome Home Washington Nationals Luncheon hosted by NBC's Tim Russert, where some top sponsors got a chance to shake the players' hands and take photos with them.

Workers were putting the final touches on RFK's $18 million makeover, which only got started in January after all the wrangling between baseball and the District of Columbia Council. Cranes were being used to put up signs on the outside and advertising on the outfield walls — including a new ad for an auto maker where there used to be a Nationals poster showing Castilla at the plate.

Maybe they should have left that up.

Castilla, who sat out the past two games with a sore right shoulder, went 3-for-3 with a double in the second, a two-run triple in the fourth and a two-run homer in the sixth — all off Arizona starter Javier Vazquez (0-2), who once pitched for the Expos.

Hernandez (1-1) was downright dominant for eight innings, giving up just one hit and letting only one runner reach third base. But he walked Luis Gonzalez leading off the ninth before Shawn Green singled and Chad Tracy hit a three-run homer with one out.

Chad Cordero came on for the last two outs, earning his second save, though he did bring the tying run to the plate by giving up a single to Quinton McCracken. Cordero ended it by getting pinch-hitter Tony Clark to fly out to center.

While Hernandez was a stalwart for the Expos, leading the NL in complete games and innings the last two years, Castilla was one of the additions general manager Jim Bowden made in the offseason as he tried to improve a 67-95 team with a $50 million budget.

Mets 4, Astros 3

NEW YORK — Jose Reyes' speed keyed a three-run seventh inning and the Mets rallied for their fourth straight victory.

New York was trailing 3-1 against Brandon Backe when David Wright walked to open the seventh, and Victor Diaz doubled a batter later.

Wright scored on a grounder and Reyes hit an infield single against ex-Met John Franco (0-1) , scoring Diaz with the tying run.

Reyes stole second and scored when third baseman Mike Lamb booted Miguel Cairo's grounder for an error.

Mike Matthews (1-0) pitched a scoreless seventh to earn the win and Braden Looper pitched the ninth for his first save.



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