Guillen and Loaiza Wake Up Nationals
Saturday, August 27, 2005
Jose Guillen ran.
The ball trickled off his bat rolling no more than 80 feet, much of it in foul territory along the first base line at RFK Stadium. He could have stopped, Manager Frank Robinson said later. Most hitters would. It was a foul ball. Why try to run?
But still Jose Guillen dropped his head and sprinted, his feet chewing clumps of dirt and pieces of chalk. His arms swung.
His helmet wobbled.
Not run? Not now, Guillen thought. The Washington Nationals were in last place. Desperation was setting in. Later -- after the Nationals had beaten the St. Louis Cardinals, 4-1 -- he would shrug and say, "You just never know."
Cardinals pitcher Jeff Suppan thought he knew. He saw the ball roll foul and stopped his pursuit. Guillen roared past and just as he did, the foul ball turned fair. First baseman Albert Pujols picked it up. Too late. Guillen already stood on first. The RFK crowd was screaming and for the first time in a long while this looked something like the old Nationals.
Just when it seemed lethargy had set in and their season was about to spiral into an abyss, there came this victory over the best team in the National League. And it wasn't just that Washington won a game it absolutely had to win, it was the way the victory happened: with runs made from nothing, with frantic sprints down the base line and with a starting pitcher -- Esteban Loaiza -- hurling strikes past bewildered Cardinals hitters.
"This is what we should do," Robinson said. "It's how we win the game. Run hard, play smart."
If you needed to see how much the Nationals still cared after sleepwalking through two losses in three games to the Cincinnati Reds, all you had to do was watch them last night, pulling together for four runs against Suppan and then playing defense with renewed intensity.
If you needed to know how relevant this team still remains in its first season here all you had to do was look around RFK on the first night baseball went head-to-head with a Redskins game and see 37,855 fans -- almost 4,000 more than the Nats' average. So what if maybe a quarter of them were wearing Cardinals jerseys? By the end of the night, the roar was as loud as almost any here this year and there weren't many St. Louis voices.
"It was loud," Loaiza said as he smoked a victory cigar after his third win in four starts. "But I had to block the noise out while I pitched."
He looked as good as he has all season, at one point striking out six of seven batters. He went long stretches without giving up a hit and didn't allow a run until Jim Edmonds walked and scored on So Taguchi's single in the seventh. The day before, Washington starter Livan Hernandez looked lost in a 5-3 loss to the Reds. If ever the Nationals needed an inspired performance, it was last night.