If, as it is commonly believed, pitching is ahead of hitting when the baseball season first gets underway, one would think that the Washington Nationals would have won Monday’s Opening Day game against the New York Mets and be given the next two just for having one of the great starting pitching staffs we’ve seen in recent memory.
I mean, after all — Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez — what’s the point of even going through the exercise?
Then again, what’s the point of having the greatest pitching staff of the 21st century when you get outpitched by a 41-year-old Richard Simmons dropout on Opening Day?
Bartolo Colon and his slippery right arm outpitched Scherzer, the Nationals’ new $210 million man, on Monday in Washington’s 3-1 loss to the New York Mets before a soldout crowd of 42,295 at Nationals Park.
Oh, yes, you’ll hear the moans about the lack of Nationals offense. And you’ll see the fingers point to the Ian Desmond error on a pop fly in the sixth inning that contributed to the go-ahead, two-run inning for the Mets. And yes, the Nationals didn’t hit and Desmond, with not just one, but two errors, didn’t do much in the way of improving his negotiating position when he becomes a free agent at the end of this season.
But it was Scherzer who gave up the four pitch, two-out walk to Curtis Granderson in the top of the sixth, and then following Desmond’s error on a pop fly by David Wright that should have been second baseman Dan Uggla’s ball, served up the pitch that Lucas Duda drove into right center field — the first hit allowed by Scherzer — that scored Granderson and Wright and put New York on top, 3-1.
“The first hit he gave up was the difference in the game,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said. “They came through with the big hit when they needed it.
“Today a couple of miscues were the difference for Max,” he said.
But the difference maker in a game like this is supposed to be Scherzer. That’s what great pitching does — erases miscues and not allow the big hit when they need it.
In last year’s Nationals League Division Series loss to the San Francisco Giants, where both teams scored the same amount of runs in four games — nine — Washington was outpitched, not outhit. And it was game one where it began, when Williams said Strasburg “pitched well … the other guy pitched better” — the other guy being 38-year-old Jake Peavy.
On Monday, it was the 41-year-old Colon.
Great pitching is supposed to overcome all. The guy on the mound with the ball still has control of the game.
Scherzer, in his Nationals debut, allowed no earned runs and struck out eight while walking two and giving up four hits in 7 2/3 innings — an impressive performance, greeted with an ovation from the home crowd when he left the game in the top of the eighth.
“He was really good — as advertised,” Williams said.
But he lost control of the game in the sixth inning, when he seemed to be bothered by either his favorable strike zone from home plate umpire Tim Welke that suddenly disappeared, or by Desmond’s miscue on an easy pop fly, and gave up the two-run, two-strike single to Duda.
“I put myself in that situation with a two-out walk on four pitches,” Scherzer said.
Colon? He never lost control out there.
He gave up a leadoff single to rookie center fielder Michael Taylor to start the game and then Yunel Escobar reached first on an error when a throw by second baseman Daniel Murphy pulled Duda off the bag at first. But then Colon greased himself up and struck out Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, and got Wilson Ramos on a ground out to second.
After that, other than the leadoff solo home run to Harper in the top of the fourth, Colon never lost control in the six innings he was out there.
Max Scherzer pitched well. And he will likely be in control and dominate on the mound as part of this great Washington Nationals pitching staff.
But on Monday, Bartolo Colon pitched better. That can’t happen.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.