By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 7, 2006
When Jose Vidro left his apartment in Northwest Washington yesterday morning, he had to know that the last time he drove in a run was nearly two months ago. He definitely knew that, with the last-place Washington Nationals headed into their final 24 games, his playing time had been reduced. There, pulling up to a traffic light near his building, he was caught between being part of the club's past and its present.
Every morning when Vidro reaches that light, it seems to be red, providing him a moment to think. Yesterday? You guessed it. Green.
"Maybe this is going to be a good day for me," Vidro described his thoughts at the time.
With that bit of cheesy symbolism stored away, Vidro came through for one of the few times all year, delivering a two-run single in the bottom of the ninth that lifted the Nationals over the St. Louis Cardinals, 7-6, for their sixth victory in seven games, five of them in come-from-behind style. It was as fine a fashion as they could have picked to complete a nine-game homestand and head west for stops in Colorado and Arizona.
"Definitely, the beer's going to taste a lot better on that plane for me," Vidro said.
These have been trying times for the 32-year-old who is, whether he wants to be or not, the elder statesman in the clubhouse, a man who signed with the Montreal Expos as an 18-year-old in 1992. Vidro hoped this would be his renaissance season, because his last three had been savaged by chronic knee problems, not to mention an ankle injury that cost him two months of 2005. But in July, he went on the disabled list with a hamstring strain, making him of no use to his current club or any potential suitor who might have wanted an experienced, switch-hitting bat for the pennant race.
Now he walks into the clubhouse and wonders whether he'll play. His skills appear to have diminished precipitously since his hamstring strain; he has far less range on defense, and he can't hit for much power. From 1999 through 2003, he was one of the National League's premier second basemen, hitting .316 and averaging better than 40 doubles a season.
But when Vidro arrived at the park, he was hitting .224 since he came off the disabled list, and he had just one extra-base hit in his previous 35 at-bats. Moreover, Manager Frank Robinson had a discussion with him over the weekend: He wouldn't be playing as much down the stretch because the club needed to look at Bernie Castro, a fleet-footed 27-year-old, to make a judgment for next season.
"I think I got a lot of play left in me," Vidro said. "Things happen. This game, it's crazy. I feel I can play every day. . . . I don't know what to say. They got a lot of decisions to make."
Robinson asked Vidro if he wanted to play yesterday before the pair left the park Tuesday night. Vidro jumped at the chance. Yet for much of the afternoon in front of a small crowd announced at 21,322, it looked like they wouldn't need late-inning heroics from the veteran second baseman.
Rookie left-hander Mike O'Connor, making his first major league start since July 29, threw five scoreless innings in which he allowed three hits, all singles. After the Cardinals took the lead on Scott Spiezio's three-run homer off reliever Chris Schroder in the sixth, Washington fought back with a four-run sixth against St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner. Brian Schneider, appearing as a pinch hitter, tied the game with a single up the middle, and Alfonso Soriano gave the Nationals a 5-3 lead with a two-run single that spelled the end for Carpenter, who left disgusted.
But the Cardinals got within 5-4 on Yadier Molina's solo homer in the seventh. When Chad Cordero came in to save it in the ninth, he had the comfort of knowing that Albert Pujols -- with homers in the first two games of the series -- was scheduled to be the fifth batter of the inning. Get the first three men, Pujols would be avoided and the game would be over.
But Cordero allowed a one-out single to John Rodriguez, bringing up Preston Wilson, the former National. And with the count 2-2, Cordero went to a slider.
"That's the second or third pitch in his arsenal," Robinson said. Cordero described the pitch as "just spinning there." Wilson clubbed it to left, flicking his bat to the ground after the ball left the bat, a two-run homer that put the Cardinals up 6-5.
So here, again, the Nationals needed a rally. Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen, who already led the National League with nine blown saves, obliged. He walked Felipe Lopez -- who made a spectacular play in the eighth, lunging backward to snare a popup with the bases loaded. With one out, Isringhausen hit Nick Johnson with a pitch. He got an 0-2 count on the next batter, Ryan Church, before Church battled him for a walk, loading the bases.
"I just couldn't find the strike zone," Isringhausen said. "Once I started missing, I was trying to do too much."
Vidro had already driven in his first run since July 14 with a single in the sixth. He took a ball from Isringhausen, then drove the first strike he saw into right. It might have been a double, but all the Nationals needed, on this day, was a single. Lopez scored easily and Johnson followed, the winning run and a feel-good moment for Vidro, the forgotten man.
"I have missed a lot of chances to help this team this year," Vidro said. "That was the biggest hit of the year for me."