Muffled Nats Make Some Noise

Chad Cordero
Nationals closer Chad Cordero celebrates with catcher Matt LeCroy after the team's 5-4 victory over Pittsburgh. (Preston Keres - The Washington Post)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 8, 2006

The clubhouse is quiet now, not yet a morgue, but more of an office, a workplace. The giant television that sits in the middle of the Washington Nationals' small locker room at RFK Stadium broadcast only a dark, blank screen before yesterday's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The boss, Manager Frank Robinson, determined late last week that each of his employees wasn't focused enough. The result: Silence.

"It's been too quiet," right fielder Jose Guillen said. "This is not fun, man. It's not been fun the last week or so."

On the brink of guaranteeing their entire season would be little more than drudgery, the Nationals loosened up for exactly one inning yesterday, scoring all the runs in a 5-4 victory over the Pirates with two outs in the third. Guillen's monstrous two-run homer, a rarity for him at RFK, was the big blast, and the Nationals took two of three from the Pirates, their first series win in their last six tries. Whether the music blares or not, the Nationals hadn't taken a series at home since last September, and they did it in front of an announced crowd of 30,659, the second-largest of the year.

"It's a relief to finally win a series anywhere," Robinson said. "We could've been in the Mojave Desert today and I would've been relieved."

That all this came against the Pirates, one of just two teams in the National League with records worse than Washington, is of little consequence to these guys. "You got to beat those teams to give yourself a chance," catcher Matthew LeCroy said.

Whether the Nationals, 10 games under .500, have a chance to turn their season around will be determined on an upcoming three-city, 10-day, nine-game trip that begins tomorrow in Cincinnati.

They wouldn't have taken even a small step in the right direction had Nick Johnson not been jammed on a 3-1 fastball from Pirates lefty Zach Duke with two outs and two on in the third. Johnson fisted the pitch on a soft arc toward shallow center, where it dropped almost equidistant from shortstop Jose Hernandez and second baseman Jose Castillo, nestling in the grass.

A hair to the left, a smidge to the right, and there is no rally. But when the bloop fell in, it gave the Nationals a 2-1 lead.

"Any way they fall," Johnson said. And at RFK, for Guillen, that much is true. In a year and a month with the Nationals, the disparity between his offensive performance at home and on the road is remarkable. Taking 2005 and the start of this season together, he entered yesterday's game as a .304 hitter away from RFK, a .239 hitter at home. His power numbers on the road (23 homers, 59 RBI, .557 slugging percentage) dwarfed those at RFK (3, 28, .343, respectively).

So forgive Guillen for a moment if, after Duke served up a fat 1-0 pitch, he stood and admired the ball as it shot on a high parabola to left, landing a few rows into Section 446 of the upper deck.

It was just Guillen's fourth homer ever at RFK, his first since Aug. 24, when he tagged current teammate Ramon Ortiz, then with Cincinnati. That would be 33 games and 108 at-bats between home homers for Guillen, who is hitting just .238.

"Don't worry about me," Guillen said. "I'll get out of this slump."

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