Last year, 35,489 people bought a ticket to the first Nationals Saturday home game of the season, against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday, April 14. Today’s game brought in 41,992 people–the young season’s second sell-out.
Why did 6,503 additional people decide to attend today’s game? There are several likely explanations.
Last year’s starting pitcher was Edwin Jackson, a pitcher so unnoteworthy I forgot he was on the team until I just looked up the game’s box score. This year’s starting pitcher was a gentlemen named Stephen Strasburg, otherwise known as The Biggest Pitching Phenom in a Generation. Last year, the Nats were coming off their sixth straight losing season. This year, they are the defending National League East National Champions. Last year, the opponent was the Cincinnati Reds, the smallest of small market teams. This year, the Nats faced the much-hyped, first-place, mega-market Atlanta Braves, on FOX no less, a small distinction that matters to people for some reason.
Perhaps one, or all, of these reasons explain the attendance bump at Nats Park this afternoon. But the most likely explanation is the Gio Gonzalez bobblehead given to the first 15,000 fans in attendance. People love bobbleheads. The Nats may have lost today, but at least 15,000 people walked away happy. Thanks for coming the stadium today, folks. May your bobblehead bobble on your desk, in your den, or–most likely–in the closet, where it will stay until you throw it away several years from now when Gio Gonzalez is pitching for another team.
They only scored one run. Yep, that’s about it. It does’t matter that Zimmerman had an error that led to two unearned runs. Strasburg appeared to be struggling at times, but ended up giving up zero earned runs. Tim Hudson, who was the Braves opening day starter by the way, pitched a savvy game. He did not out pitch Strasburg, the Braves out scored the Nats. This is a minor but important distinction. Scoring one run is going to lose the game just about every time.
Chris Johnson’s knees buckled on the Stras breaking ball, and then looked back at the dugout and said “damn”.
Everyone will focus on the late inning boondogle in game one of nineteen with the Braves, but the bigger story has to do with the first seven innings. Leave it to the wily manager to make the shrewdest move of the season so far. He set the Nationals starting rotation to go 1, 2, 3 versus the Braves. Think about that for a second…
In order for you to believe that Detweiler is a number 1, you need to forget what you think you know, and tell me what you see when you watch the Nats pitching staff. If you are honest about what you see, you will notice the best starting pitcher for the Nats over the last five months has been Ross Detweiler. To be fair, they did not play any real games during four and a half of those months, but work with me. When the Nats needed a good start to stay alive against the Cardinals it was Det, and when the Nats faced the Reds, it was Det who came through. By counting out the days on the pitching rotation on the schedule, Davey ensured game one against the Braves was Detweiler and not Haren. Oh, sure he gave the line about Haren being the veteran and deserving #4, but I think we now see what he was up to.