CHICAGO -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson said he wants his leadoff hitter, Ian Desmond, to get on base and become a run producer.
Desmond did both on Thursday afternoon. He had three hits, and his RBI single in the ninth inning delivered the winning run as Washington defeated the Cubs, 2-1, at Wrigley Field.
The score was tied at 1 when the Nationals rallied off closer Carlos Marmol. With two outs in the ninth, Chad Tracy doubled to right field. Desmond followed and singled to right field, scoring Brett Carroll, who pinch-ran for Tracy. Prior to Thursday, both Tracy and Desmond were a combined 0-for-12 against Marmol.
"I just wanted to stay aggressive," Desmond said. "I know Marmol likes the slider. I wanted it to stay up in the zone. I tried to stay on it as best as I could. Hitting the ball in the air was pretty useless. I wanted to hit the hardest ground ball I could. I pulled off a little bit, but it worked."
Stephen Strasburg pitched seven superb innings in his first-career Opening Day start, allowing a run on five hits and striking out five batters. The run scored in the fourth inning, when Ian Stewart scored on a single by Marlon Byrd.
Strasburg, who ended up with a no-decision, was excited after the game. It was the first time he had pitched at Wrigley Field. He enjoyed the playoff-type atmosphere that surrounded Opening Day in Chicago.
"It was just awesome getting a chance to pitch in Wrigley Field on Opening Day," Strasburg said. "It's just a lot of fun going out there being in somewhat of a hostile crowd. At the same time, the fans know the game. Just think about all the Hall of Famers who played here. It's an honor."
Cubs manager Dale Sveum was impressed by how Strasburg pitched in the game.
"When you've got pitchers like that, at the end of the season, they have 2.50 earned-run averages," Sveum said. "When guys don't walk guys and have that kind of stuff, you try to be as aggressive as you can. If you want to keep taking pitches, you'll get into two-strike counts, and they're not going to walk you anyway. They have great command of their breaking balls."
The Nationals had Cubs right-hander Ryan Demspter on the ropes at different points in the game but couldn't take advantage of the situations. In the first inning, the Nationals had runners on second and third with one out, but Adam LaRoche struck out and Jayson Werth flied out to right field to end the threat.
Two innings later, the Nationals had the bases loaded with one out against Dempster, but LaRoche struck out and Werth flied out to right field to end the threat. For the game, LaRoche left five runners on base.
"You have to tip your hat to Dempster," Johnson said. "He pitched a great ballgame. He had a great split. He located his fastball. He was in total command. It was an outstanding pitched ballgame."
The Nationals were able to tie the score in the bottom of the eighth inning. With Kerry Wood on the mound after Dempster's exit with one on and two out, the Nationals were able to load the bases. This time, Werth came through, drawing a walk, and scoring Desmond. Werth was behind in the count, 0-2.
"I don't know what success I've had [against Wood] in the past. It hasn't been that good," Werth said. "I think the hardest-hit balls I hit off him was a bunt that I lined to Derrek Lee a few years ago. It was an unsuccessful bunt. He's tough. He has had a good career. Anytime you can draw a walk with the bases loaded to tie the game, it's better than nothing. That's for sure."
The wind was blowing in, and that also didn't help the Nationals. Ryan Zimmerman likely missed out on two homers in the game. In the first inning, with runners on first and second, Zimmerman hit a ball that appeared to be going over the center-field wall, but it was caught near the warning track.
In the sixth inning, Zimmerman led off and hit what looked like would be a sure solo homer over the left-field wall, but it was caught on the warning track by Alfonso Soriano.
"I had some good at-bats today. ... But hopefully I'll get some wind-blown homers the other way, maybe," Zimmerman said. "You can never look at things like that. The truth is, they weren't homers. But more importantly, we won."
The Nationals needed some luck to get out of a jam in the ninth inning. With one out and closer Brad Lidge on the mound, Stewart hit what looked like was going to be a home run to right field, but the ball ended up hitting Werth's glove for a triple.
Pinch-runner Jerry Mather was then thrown out at the plate on Jeff Baker's grounder to Zimmerman at third base. Byrd then struck out looking to end the game.
"I had a feeling Mather was going to be out because Zim is a great defensive player," Lidge said. "As soon as that runner stopped at third, I felt good about being able to get out of it. I'm just glad [Stewart's] ball didn't go out. I didn't think it was possible to hit one out today, but he made it pretty close."
In the end, the Nationals wound up winning a close ballgame.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.