Nationals Keep Party Going: Eight Straight
Saturday, June 11, 2005
The digs are outdated, saddled with faded and tacky burgundy and orange seats resting over grimy concrete. The eastern edge of Capitol Hill hasn't, for some time, been a trendy gathering spot. Even the theme music -- at 10:20 last night, the Pointer Sisters' "I'm So Excited" pumped through the heavy air -- has long since had its day.
But right now, there is no hipper, hotter nightclub in the nation's capital than RFK Stadium, where your hosts -- the Washington Nationals -- figure out different ways to entertain on each sweltering evening. Last night, the starting pitcher found out he would hurl less than five hours before game time. The man who finished the game at second base arrived via Amtrak and didn't show up in the dugout until the third inning. And the catcher, who had driven in three runs in his last 17 games, came through with the bases-loaded single that ignited a six-run, eighth-inning rally.
So it is that the Nationals won their latest, a 9-3 decision over the Seattle Mariners that extended Washington's winning streak to eight games, the most this franchise has had in a row since June 2002, when it still resided in Montreal. And the Nationals did it in front of 28,707, who were all too happy to pay the cover charge.
"This is what I would say is an amazing streak," Manager Frank Robinson said. "But this club doesn't amaze me."
It might seem to be a semantic distinction, but there is something to it. Not only do the Nationals lead the National League East by 1 1/2 games over Philadelphia -- the only team in baseball remotely as hot as Washington -- but there is a sense that this is more than just a club heating up in early June. Ask the Nationals when they thought they might be able to contend.
"Spring training," third baseman Vinny Castilla said.
They never, however, could have predicted it would happen this way. In raising the major leagues' best home record to 22-9, the Nationals survived one of their most fascinating days. The starter, right-hander Sun Woo Kim, was thrust into action because something happens every day with this franchise, and yesterday it was a trade that sent right-hander Tomo Ohka to Milwaukee for second baseman Junior Spivey. Spivey, who was with the Brewers in Philadelphia, took the train to Union Station, arrived at the ballpark around the first pitch, began stretching and appeared in the dugout in the third inning, shaking hands with his new teammates.
The feeling he got was almost immediate.
"This is an exciting clubhouse," Spivey said afterward. "We're going to be a lot of fun."
Kim -- who was eating a meal when Robinson called him in to tell him he would start -- was surprisingly effective, pitching five innings and allowing just two runs in the fourth. Yet by the seventh, the Nationals trailed 3-1.
"After we gave up those runs, it didn't matter," rookie outfielder Ryan Church said. "Just a typical, Nationals baseball game."
With a typical, Nationals rally -- or two. When they beat the Oakland Athletics on Thursday, taking a 4-0 lead and hanging on for a 4-3 win, it broke a string of 10 straight victories in which the Nationals had trailed. Apparently, that style was so much fun, they wanted to try it again. Marlon Byrd tied the game at 3 in the seventh on a two-out, infield single that scored Spivey -- who entered the game as a pinch runner -- from third.
Then, the explosion. Catcher Brian Schneider had the key hit, a two-run single that scooted through the right side of the infield, making it 5-3 in the eighth. The rout and the party were on. Seattle relievers Shigetoshi Hasegawa and Matt Thornton combined to walk five men in the inning, and the Nationals were all too happy to take pitch after pitch.
So once again, when the final out was recorded, they gathered across the infield to pound fists and pat backs. They are wearing out a spot right there, in the middle of the dance floor, the path they take on their way back to a vibrant clubhouse, where the music really pounds.
"This has been kind of an unbelievable roll that we're on right now," Robinson said. "Who knows when it might end? We may go on it for a while."