Nats Get Back on Track

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 17, 2005

MILWAUKEE, July 16 -- These kind of hits hadn't happened for more than a week, the kind with two outs, with runners in scoring position, the ones that turn tie games into wins. And when Jose Guillen strode to the plate in the top of the seventh inning Saturday night, with the Washington Nationals and Milwaukee Brewers knotted up, there was little evidence, in the immediate past, that Guillen would deliver. Since the all-star break, he had failed to hit a ball out of the infield. His left shoulder throbbed, as did his left foot.

"I shouldn't even be playing," he said afterward.

Yet when the Nationals needed it most, Guillen was there, sending a pitch from Milwaukee reliever Ricky Bottalico back through the middle, the hit that drove in two runs and essentially provided Washington with a 5-3 victory over the Brewers in front of 45,079 fans, the second-largest crowd in the brief history of Miller Park.

The hit, and the victory, were desperately needed. The Nationals ended their four-game losing streak and kept their lead in the National League East at 1 1/2 games over the Atlanta Braves by getting six strong innings from Esteban Loaiza, a pair of RBI doubles from Vinny Castilla, a homer from Jose Vidro, 1 2/3 innings from new reliever Mike Stanton -- who actually got to throw a pitch -- and Chad Cordero's 32nd save.

The victory also helped quell some of the uprising that still hung around the Nationals' clubhouse after Friday night's loss, in which Stanton -- signed on Wednesday after he was cut by the New York Yankees -- entered a tie game in the bottom of the 10th and, before throwing a pitch, was called for a balk that allowed the winning run to score. Robinson was adamant that Stanton's pickoff move was legal, and Saturday night, a DVD of the play sat on Robinson's desk. The manager was still contemplating whether to send it to the league office for review, though he conceded there was nothing officials could do to change the outcome of the game.

"You had to remind me of that," he said after Saturday's game, looking at the DVD.

For once in a long week, there were happier things to think about. Yet had Guillen not come through at that moment, the Nationals very well could have lost. He said afterward that the pain in his shoulder has been so bad that he was scheduled to fly to Washington and get a cortisone shot, but decided to stay with the team and keep playing. He wasn't himself. Through the first two games after the all-star break, and the first four innings Saturday night, he was 0 for 11 with five strikeouts and six groundouts. In the sixth, he finally managed an infield single.

"The only reason I'm playing is because I care about this team, and I want to win, and [because of] Frank and the type of attitude we have in here," Guillen said. "That's the motivation I got to keep playing. . . . I'm a grown enough man, and I make my own decisions, and I know it's going to be better for me and for this team."

Robinson said he knew about Guillen's condition.

"I think the only thing that's not sore on him is his head," Robinson said. "He's pretty beat up."

Prior to the break, Guillen challenged injured Nationals Ryan Church, Nick Johnson and Cristian Guzman -- who was ejected for arguing a called third strike Saturday -- to learn to play with pain. Saturday night, he pointed out how Castilla, first baseman Brad Wilkerson and catcher Brian Schneider had long been playing with injuries.

"Everybody's different," Guillen said.

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