Down Nine Players, the Nationals Rally to Shock Atlanta

Perez and Stevenson scored the first runs of the Nationals’ season, driven home on Lucroy’s second-inning double. Lucroy had a rockier start behind the plate; the first pitch he called landed in the left field seats for a homer by Ronald Acuna Jr., and Max Scherzer allowed three other homers — including another to Acuna — in the first three innings.

But Scherzer found his form and lasted through six innings. He was glad to be playing in front of fans again, he said, but was puzzled by the local restrictions imposed by the Washington, D.C. government. Only 5,000 fans were allowed into Nationals Park, which seats more than 41,000. The permitted capacity, about 12 percent, is by far the lowest in the National League.

“I don’t understand why we can’t have more fans here,” Scherzer said. “Somebody’s got to explain that to me because that doesn’t make sense to me whatsoever. I understand that we need to be safe, I respect the virus, but we can also have fans in the top part of the deck. We can have more fans in here safely.”

The Nationals slumped to 26-34 last season and never got the chance to play before their fans as reigning champions after winning the franchise’s first title. That affected the team’s performance, said shortstop Trea Turner, who thought even a small crowd made a difference.

“Last year, sometimes, we were almost going through the motions,” Turner said. “But I feel like that crowd, when you’re down 2-0 and you get two runners on and they get loud for you, you’re like, ‘All right, let’s go, let’s get this thing going.’”

The Nationals finally got going on Tuesday, becoming the last team in the majors to play its first game of the 2021 season. Even with a depleted roster at a mostly empty stadium, it was a day to savor.

“It was very emotional, and it ended up really, really well,” Martinez said. “After this, I’m going to sit in my office, have a nice glass of wine, and then I’m going to put a lineup together for tomorrow.”

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