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Nationals' Vidro Turns On the Power

10th-Inning Homer Lifts Team to 2-1: Nationals 5, Phillies 4

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 8, 2005; Page D01

PHILADELPHIA, April 7 -- He doesn't say much, not more than joking with his teammates quietly in the clubhouse. His time on the field is largely spent behind the kind of wraparound shades that protect eyes not only from the sun, but from the gaze of those who might be trying to figure out what he's thinking.

So it was when Jose Vidro strode to the plate in the 10th inning Thursday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, the Washington Nationals tied with the Philadelphia Phillies. He had already contributed an RBI single in the first. A sacrifice fly in the fifth. A nice running catch of a dangerous little pop-up in the ninth. All the subtle things that solid, professional ballplayers do.

Brad Wilkerson singles home Brian Schneider in the fifth inning. The Nationals win their second straight, 5-4, in 10 innings. (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)

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So when Phillies left-hander Rheal Cormier got Vidro behind in the count, 1-2, it didn't matter. He got a fastball, turned on it, and sent it on a line into the left field seats, the solo homer that provided the Nationals with a 5-4 victory.

"When he's going good," center fielder Brad Wilkerson said, "he's one of the best hitters in the game. . . . He's a clutch hitter, and we know he's going to hit."

Don't look now, but the Washington Nationals -- the city's first baseball team in 34 summers -- are tied for first place in the National League East. The win Thursday was the second in a row over the Phillies, the second by a comeback, the second with an array of heroes.

The Nationals got four more hits from Wilkerson, who went 9 for 14 in the series. They got a game-changing triple from right fielder Jose Guillen, who scored the tying run in the eighth when the Nationals were just three outs away from facing formidable closer Billy Wagner. And they got another superb performance from their bullpen, capped by game-ending strikeouts of Phillies sluggers Jim Thome and Pat Burrell by closer Chad Cordero.

"That was a big, big win for us," Manager Frank Robinson said, "because of the way it went down."

The way it went down just might be how this club wins games. The first victory in Nationals' history, which came Wednesday night, came after Washington trailed 3-2 in the eighth. In this one, they led 3-0 after five, and starter Esteban Loaiza was cruising. He retired the first 12 men he faced and 15 of the first 16.

But then there was the kind of gaffe that the Nationals -- seemingly -- wouldn't have the power to overcome. In the bottom of the sixth, Wilkerson let a single by Placido Polanco skip under his glove in center, an error that allowed Jose Offerman to score all the way from first. The Phillies were on the board, and three hitters later, Burrell's two-run, two-out single tied it up.

Yet even after the Phillies took the lead in the seventh on a run-scoring single by Polanco, there was a sense among the Nationals. "This is not a young team anymore," Vidro said.

Guillen started the comeback with the triple to straightaway center, a shot that, had it been three feet to the right, would have been a game-tying home run. Instead, it was left to Nick Johnson to drive Guillen in with a hard-hit grounder down that would have gone for extra bases had it not hit the first base bag. Instead, it was an out. Sitting in the dugout, Robinson thought his team's reaction to that play might be indicative of how it will react throughout the season. There was no frustration at the out, no unnecessary histrionics.

"We scored the tying run," Robinson said, "and we felt like, 'Now, we're going to win this ballgame.' "

Cordero offered the first indication by preventing the Phillies from scoring a man from second with one out in the bottom of the ninth. Vidro came next, ripping his first homer of the year off Cormier. And then, Cordero again, tossing a 1-2-3 10th, ending things with a pair of nasty sliders. The first froze Thome. Burrell swung through the second.

At his locker afterward, Vidro -- typically hushed -- considered the start to this season, his 14th with this organization. Last year, he signed a four-year, $30 million contract with the franchise before the team moved from Montreal to Washington, before anyone knew what would really happen.

He did it for games like Thursday's.

"This is the place I feel comfortable," Vidro said. "I run things here in this clubhouse, and people respect me because I respect all of them. It feels good when it's that way. . . . For me to stay here, this is my home. This is everything for me. I feel happy here."

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