By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 13, 2005
The Washington Nationals packed their bags yesterday morning as they have done so many times over the last few seasons. For a franchise that has called three cities home in the last year -- Montreal; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Washington -- travel has become a lifestyle. Like vagabonds, players jet from one city to the next, the destinations hardly distinguishable.
Yesterday, then, felt unique. As players prepared to leave for a nine-game road trip, they savored a rare experience: It felt, players said, like they were actually leaving home .
With a 3-2 win over the Seattle Mariners in front of 37,170 at RFK Stadium, the Nationals extended their winning streak to 10 games, tying a franchise record and equaling the longest streak in baseball this season. It was a typical Nationals win -- scrappy and odds-defying. Junior Spivey hit a two-run homer in his second start with the team, starting pitcher Tony Armas Jr. (3-3) stranded nine Mariners on base in five shaky innings and closer Chad Cordero rescued the bullpen with his 16th consecutive save.
The win gave the Nationals a 12-1 homestand and left them feeling more comfortable and confident at RFK Stadium than they've felt anywhere in a long time.
"When we play here now, it's like we know we're going to win," said Cordero, who has a career high and National League-leading 19 saves. "The pitchers feel comfortable because it's a big park. The whole team gets pumped up by the crowd. It's a great fit for us, and it's going to be hard to leave. This place gives us so much confidence."
They oozed it yesterday. Spivey struggled early this season with the Milwaukee Brewers, but he looked renewed in his Nationals uniform. In his first at-bat of the game, he swung at the first pitch Ryan Franklin (2-8) threw him and smacked it deep over the left field wall to give the Nationals a 2-0 lead in the second inning.
"I think it was a sinker," Spivey said, "and I knew I could hit it."
Armas, too, performed confidently -- at least when it mattered most. The Mariners threatened in all five innings Armas pitched, but he held them scoreless. Nine times Seattle hitters faced Armas with a chance to drive in at least one runner in scoring position but never did.
Armas left the game with some unremarkable numbers: 5 hits, 3 walks and 107 pitches in five innings. But he struck out six and improved the Nationals' starting pitchers to 6-0 on this homestand with a combined ERA of 2.03.
"We've got a streak right now that everybody is trying to build on," said Armas, who has allowed three runs total in his last three starts. "I didn't feel like I was in trouble. I didn't let anything bother me. They were fouling off everything, but I kept it together. I kept us in the game."
And Cordero closed it. He faced the heart of Seattle's lineup in the ninth inning -- Jeremy Reed, Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson -- and retired the Mariners in order for the first time in the game, inducing two grounders and an easy pop fly.
Cordero's perfect inning bailed out fellow reliever Gary Majewski, who gave up two runs in 1 2/3 innings and let the Mariners sneak back into the game. It also allowed the Nationals to walk off the field to a standing ovation for the second consecutive day.
Manager Frank Robinson, for one, hardly seemed eager to leave the field on which his team has accumulated a major league-best 24-9 record and taken over first place in the National League East. Robinson paused three times on his walk back to the dugout to lift his cap and wave it at the fans.
"The way we're playing, we certainly would like to stay right here, with the fans and the feel we have in this park," Robinson said. "I wish we had about two more weeks."