Nats Talk the Talk

Cristian Guzman
Nationals shortstop Cristian Guzman commits an error on this grounder by the Padres' Khalil Greene in the second inning. (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 7, 2005

Frank Robinson sat in a black, cushioned office chair, rolled out from behind the desk in his office to the middle of the clubhouse floor, and started off a meeting in which he didn't know what might happen. The struggles of Robinson's team over the past month built to a climax Friday night, when several Washington Nationals tossed various items around the dugout, and Robinson, the team's manager, wanted to, as he said, "clear the air."

So at 3:58 p.m. yesterday, the clubhouse door closed. It didn't open for 1 hour 44 minutes.

"I can't remember the last time I played this card," Robinson said. "This was not your typical meeting."

Nor are these typical times for the Nationals. After the group therapy session, the struggling unit went out and played a game that looked like so many it had played before, a 3-2 loss to the San Diego Padres in which they were all but shut down by a pitcher who had been discarded and was struggling, right-hander Pedro Astacio.

But even as the announced crowd of 38,076 filed out of RFK Stadium, wondering how the Nationals' dormant offense managed only five hits against Astacio and three relievers, the main event of the day was the meeting, which nearly everyone involved described as "positive" or "good," but which was a clear indication that the team that had provided the happiest story in baseball during the first half of the season is now searching for answers, wondering about its chemistry.

"Some things that came up [were] tough," Robinson said. "It's like tough love. It got out there, and it was discussed, and there was some discussion on the issues, and we got through it. That's why I think it was a good meeting, because there were a lot of things said by a lot of people on different subjects."

The players, who spoke during a 50-31 first half of their superior chemistry, used the opportunity to vent at each other, though several sources said no one player was the target.

"Stuff was said that needed to be said," outfielder Ryan Church said. "Everybody here was a man about it. You have to be a man about it. It comes down to everybody pulling together."

The signs of instability, however, have been there for some time, beginning on July 5 against the New York Mets, when right fielder Jose Guillen had a midgame confrontation in the dugout with pitcher Esteban Loaiza and catcher Brian Schneider after Guillen was hit by a pitch and felt Loaiza didn't retaliate. Then, on July 20, ace Livan Hernandez threatened to have season-ending surgery on his right knee and blasted the media in a profanity-laced tirade the following day, but eventually settled down.

Then, the events of Friday night provided plenty of topics for discussion.

Hernandez left that 6-5 loss to the Padres, tossing his glove, hat and warmup jacket into the crowd following his exit. He then knocked over at least one water cooler and threw some other items in the dugout. Later, reliever Joey Eischen broke a bat after striking out, and closer Chad Cordero also knocked things around in the dugout.

"Some of that stuff isn't necessary," one player said.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company