Washington Stops Its Former Team

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 9, 2007

MINNEAPOLIS, June 8 -- No current member of the Washington Nationals even was a fleeting thought in his parents' minds back in 1961, when the District's long-standing American League franchise, the Senators, moved to a Minneapolis suburb and became the Twins. The franchise of Walter Johnson and Goose Goslin packed its history and headed west, becoming the franchise of Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva.

So if you're fishing for subplots as Washington's current major league entry faces the Twins for the first time since baseball returned to the District in 2005, perhaps choose revenge. The Nationals' 8-5 victory over the Twins on Friday night -- one in which they took an eight-run lead but brought the tying run to the on-deck circle in both the eighth and ninth -- could serve as the first installment.

No, vengeance means nothing to most of the players who authored this result -- Jason Simontacchi and his 7 2/3 innings of six-hit ball or designated hitter Dmitri Young, who continued his blistering pace with three more hits and three RBI. But for those Washington old-timers who still rue the day their original club left -- even as it immediately was replaced by an expansion franchise -- Friday was 46 years in the making.

Maybe, though, there is one player who could use this weekend to show the Twins something. That one guy: Cristian Guzman, the former Twins shortstop. Before Friday, he hadn't been back to the Metrodome since he signed a four-year, $16.8 million contract with the Nationals following the 2004 season, a deal heretofore seen as a disaster. Guzman's statement on that notion: a 4-for-5 night in which he scored three runs, drove in one, hit a double and raised his average to .339, all overshadowing an error.

Coincidence? Or revenge?

"Everywhere I go, I want to play well," Guzman said. "Not because I'm here in Minnesota. I want to keep going like this my whole career."

Easy, now. Let's put this in perspective. Guzman has had four hits twice in his last seven games. In Guzman's miserable 2005 -- one in which he hit .219 for the season -- he went 4 for 42 the entire month of July. This June, he is 15 for 31 (.484).

"Solid," said Simontacchi, himself a Twins minor leaguer until 2001. "Just solid."

In a month, Guzman has gone from being a problem for the Nationals to being a problem for the opposition. Friday, he was the leadoff man in place of Felipe Lopez, who got a day off. Improbably, the question could now become: Should Guzman hit first permanently? His on-base percentage trumps that of Lopez by nearly 100 points -- an astronomical .382 to .287 for Lopez.

"He's done most of his damage hitting second, so we'll keep him there for now," Manager Manny Acta said. "It doesn't mean that in the future, we don't make a change if things don't start to work out."

Guzman, who spent the first six years of his career in Minnesota, began the pounding of Twins starter Carlos Silva by hitting his first pitch into right field for a solid single. Silva didn't record an out in the fourth, and was charged with seven earned runs. The only reason the Twins' bullpen isn't in tatters now is because former National Ramon Ortiz pitched six innings of one-run relief.

Simontacchi would make the 8-0 lead hold up, even if there were a couple of anxious moments. The 33-year-old hadn't pitched more than seven innings since throwing a complete game in May 2003. But with several relievers worn out, he needed to extend himself Friday. He did, cruising through the first six innings, allowing three hits and no runs.

"He gave us a huge lift," Acta said.

In the seventh, though, was one mistake. With one out and two on, catcher Brian Schneider wanted a change-up to Jason Kubel. Simontacchi shook him off, preferring the fastball, which he had located superbly.

"Karma," Schneider joked with Simontacchi afterward. The fastball drifted back over the plate, and Kubel hit it for a three-run homer that made it 8-3. Still, Simontacchi got two outs in the eighth. But when he walked Michael Cuddyer, Acta came to get him. Simontacchi scowled, because he doesn't enjoy being removed.

"I hate it, period," Simontacchi said. He hated it more when lefty Billy Traber gave up a pair of singles to make it 8-4. But even after Saul Rivera got out of that jam, then allowed a run in the ninth, the Nationals escaped it with a game-ending liner off the bat of Joe Mauer to first baseman Robert Fick.

Afterward, Guzman was the focal point of the celebration. Six years here. Four hits upon his return. Revenge or not, a nice evening.

"I feel happy to be here in Minnesota again," he said. "I know it's my old team, but it doesn't matter. I'm a National now, so it's okay."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company