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Sparkling Debut For Nats' Drese
Cordero Closes Out the Masterpiece: Nationals 1, Angels 0

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 16, 2005

ANAHEIM, Calif., June 15 -- The night had so many elements, starting with Ryan Drese's surprising but sparkling eight-inning performance, finishing with Chad Cordero's escape act in the ninth, the seminal story lines in the latest exhilarating victory for the Washington Nationals, this one 1-0 over the Anaheim Angels on Wednesday night.

The thriller -- in which Cordero worked out of a no-out, bases-loaded jam in the ninth -- came just 24 hours after the incendiary events of Tuesday night, when Angels Manager Mike Scioscia and Nationals Manager Frank Robinson squared off, face to face, over the fact that Robinson had Angels reliever Brendan Donnelly investigated, and then ejected, for having pine tar on his glove. That led to an outburst from Jose Guillen, the Nationals' right fielder who was suspended by Scioscia for insubordination as a member of the Angels last year.

Sitting in the visiting clubhouse Wednesday night, with the Nationals having taken two of three from his former team, Guillen let loose on Scioscia.

"I don't got truly no respect for him anymore because I'm still hurt from what happened last year," Guillen said. "I don't want to make all these comments, but Mike Scioscia, to me, is like a piece of garbage. I don't really care. I don't care if I get in trouble.

"He can go to hell. We've got to move on. I don't got no respect for him."

Scioscia has taken the high road, for the most part, in reviewing the incident with Guillen, and the two had previously claimed to have made up. But Guillen said that when Scioscia confronted Robinson in Tuesday's game, it changed things. Guillen said he became a different player after the incident, and it showed. He hit a two-run homer to tie Tuesday's game, then went 2 for 4 Wednesday.

The story of the game was Drese's debut for the Nationals, in which he allowed just two singles over eight innings, a masterful performance that couldn't have been expected from a player essentially released by Texas last week. Nationals catcher Brian Schneider provided the only run necessary by ripping his fourth homer of the year, off Angels starter Bartolo Colon.

But the triangle of Guillen, Scioscia and Robinson colored the series.

"I want to beat this team so bad," Guillen said. "I can never get over about what happened last year. It's something I'm never going to forget. Any time I play that team, Mike Scioscia's managing, it's always going to be personal to me."

Beyond the personal squabbles, however, are the important aspects of the Nationals' situation. They have won 15 of 17 games by taking five series in a row, and now hold a three-game lead in the National League East because they took two of three from the Angels, the top team in the American League West. The Nationals are 17-7 in one-run games, and have won nine of their last 10 decided by the narrowest of margins.

"I guess that's about as close as it gets," Robinson said.

Wednesday went off without a problem on the field, other than the deep and loud boos the sellout crowd of 43,505 gave Guillen, a central figure in the benches-clearing incident, each time Guillen came to the plate. After he came off the field in the top of the ninth, having been retired at second base on a forceout, he responded to the jeers by raising both his hands to the stands, as if taking in the disdain.

"Lots of motivation for me," Guillen said.

Behind Schneider's homer in the sixth -- a leadoff blast to right field on a first-pitch fastball from Colon -- gave Drese the lead, albeit by that tiny margin. And when Cordero arrived in the ninth, having converted 17 straight opportunities and leading the majors with 20 saves, there was reason for confidence.

But Cordero allowed a leadoff single to Darin Erstad, then fell down while delivering a pitch to Vladimir Guerrero, who he eventually walked.

"It was embarrassing," Cordero said.

He picked himself up, but Garret Anderson followed with a single to right, loading the bases with no outs. This had to be it, the time when Cordero's streak ended, and the Nationals went down with him.

"I was so scared," Guillen said, "because I don't really want to lose this game."

The Nationals didn't, because Cordero responded with composure beyond his 23 years. He struck out Steve Finley and got Bengie Molina to pop up to shallow center, not deep enough to score Erstad from third. That brought up Dallas McPherson, and Cordero threw a 1-2 fastball by him. He celebrating immediately, thumping his chest, his job done.

"That's about as gutsy as it gets," Robinson said.

So the Nationals departed for Texas, with a day off ahead of them before a three-game series with the Rangers. They left behind them, though, a wake. The Scioscia-Robinson incident. Guillen's involvement, and ensuing comments. And another series win.

"We win -- that's the great thing about it," Guillen said. "We showed them that we can play. We showed them we [aren't] scared."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company