Atilano was nervous, but after throwing the first pitch to Rafael Furcal, Atilano relaxed and went on to throw 93 pitches in the game, 57 for strikes.
"I really wasn't trying to pay attention to the lineup. I was only trying to make my pitches," Atilano said. "I used everything. I used the curveball, I used the slider, changeup and sinker. I was also trying to get ahead of the hitters, so I wouldn't go on deep counts. It felt good -- everything. It was perfect. I couldn't ask for anything better."
What made the victory even sweeter was that Atilano was able to throw to one of his childhood heroes, catcher Ivan Rodriguez.
"I threw to Pudge, hopefully a Hall of Famer," Atilano said. "My dream would have never been better if I didn't pitch to Pudge. Pitching in the big leagues and then pitching to Pudge was just incredible. Winning the ballgame is even better."
How did Rodriguez feel about catching the rookie?
"He has great stuff," Rodriguez said. "He has a good sinker. He threw strikes and didn't try to do too much. He needs to be around the plate, so his pitches are better."
For Atilano, it took seven-plus seasons to reach the big leagues. He was one of Washington's best Minor League pitchers this season, giving up two runs in 11 innings for Triple-A Syracuse. Before Friday, Atilano last pitched Sunday, giving up a run in six innings against Lehigh Valley.
Atilano was acquired from the Braves in 2006 for first baseman Daryle Ward. At the time of the trade, Atilano was recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he went a combined 9-8 with a 4.01 ERA for Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse last season.
Despite his setback, Atilano knew the day would come when he would pitch in his first big league game.
"I worked hard this offseason. I wanted to make it to the big leagues this year," he said. "Anyway, I'll take it. I wanted to do my routine the right way."
The run, which Atilano gave up in the fourth inning, came after James Loney doubled and Ronnie Belliard hit what looked like a routine fly ball to center field, but center fielder Nyjer Morgan lost the ball in the twilight and it dropped in for a base hit.
After he grabbed the ball, Morgan threw it over shortstop Cristian Guzman's head, which put runners on second and third with one out. Morgan was charged with an error on the play.
"I overthrew the ball," Morgan said. "I didn't know my own strength there. I kind of airmailed Guzzie. I just lost the ball. I was ready to fire home, then I saw Guzzie and it kind of threw me off guard a little bit. I have to be able to hit him like that."
After Blake DeWitt was intentionally walked, Loney scored on a groundout by A.J. Ellis.
Atilano received plenty of run support, thanks to Adam Dunn, who broke out of a 9-for-51 slump by hitting two homers off knuckleballer Charlie Haeger. Knowing what Dunn was up against before the game, closer Matt Capps threw knuckleballs to his teammate before batting practice. The pitches from Capps helped Dunn during the game.
The first homer was an upper-deck solo shot to right field in the fourth inning. Two innings later, Dunn took a fastball over the right-field wall for a two-run homer.
Dunn went 2-for-3 in the game, raising his batting average to .204, but the slugger didn't sound like a guy who was out of his hitting slump.
"I wouldn't say I'm out of a slump," Dunn said. "It's just a first game. But it felt good. Again, I've been feeling good all along. I just haven't been doing much. Two thoughts went through my head. On the first home run, I went up there, I was going to basically jam myself and stay inside of [the ball]. The other one was to revert back to slow-pitch softball, minus the beer coolers in the dugout."
The Nationals are now 9-8 to start the season. Last year, they didn't win their ninth game until May 7.