- Associated Press - Monday, May 25, 2015

CHICAGOTanner Roark made a successful return to the rotation on Monday. It was like he never left.

Roark pitched five effective innings, Wilson Ramos hit a tiebreaking home run and the Washington Nationals beat the Chicago Cubs, 2-1, in the first major league matchup of young sluggers Bryce Harper and Chicago rookie Kris Bryant.

Denard Span also hit a home run for National League East-leading Washington, which has won eight of its last nine games.

Making his first start of the season in place of the injured Doug Fister, Roark (1-2) allowed Bryant’s sixth home run and struck out three. Four relievers combined for four innings of two-hit ball, with Drew Storen working the ninth for his league-leading 15th save in 16 attempts.

“With the exception of one slider to Bryant, [Roark] threw the ball exactly where he wanted to throw it today,” Washington manager Matt Williams said. “He really kept his pitch count down through five.

“He knows how to pitch. He knows how to get guys out.”

Roark, who won 15 games last season, had a large contingent of friends and family in the stands.

“Coming off the mound each time, each inning, I could definitely hear some people with recognizable voices that were in the crowd,” said Roark, who also played his college ball at Illinois.

Roark also got some help from his defense. Left fielder Michael Taylor made a diving catch of Tsuyoshi Wada’s liner to left to end the second inning with Chris Coghlan on first.

“I threw my hands up in the air,” Roark said. “That was a heck of a catch.”

Then Harper made a leaping catch at the wall on Anthony Rizzo’s fly to right with two outs and Bryant on first in the third.

“[Harper] made a nice play running full stream into the wall,” Williams said. “He catches it with the left hand and braces with the right.

“It got the forearm and elbow, but he’s OK.”

Wada allowed one run and four hits in 5 1/3 innings in his second start since being recalled from Triple-A Iowa. Justin Grimm (1-1) relieved Wada and yielded Ramos’ two-out drive to right in the sixth.

“Both sides pitched really well,” Chicago manager Joe Maddon said. “I’ll take our performance and also my takeaway is that’s as good as anybody we played so far.

“We lost … but give them some credit regarding the defense they played in the outfield. Those were the game-changers.”

Bryant went deep in the first and also had an infield single. He reached in the ninth when a replay review showed he was hit by a pitch, but Storen retired the next three batters.

Leading off the game, Span smashed a 2-2 pitch off Wrigley Field’s new scoreboard in right. But Bryant connected in the bottom half, lining a 1-0 pitch into the first row of bleachers in left.

Harper went 1-for-3 with a double and a walk.

The 22-year-old Harper and 23-year-old Bryant are from Las Vegas and faced each other in games as late as high school.

“We grew up playing against each other, playing with each other and now it’s a bigger stage and obviously that’s pretty cool to do, living out our dreams,” Bryant said before the game. “It’s something we always wanted to do.”

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