Nationals 2, Mariners 1
It's a winning formula rich with excitement but, for the Washington Nationals, it merits little more than shrugs, head shakes and sly smiles. After all, they've won this way so often now that it feels almost commonplace: a slow start, a late-inning rally, a one-run win.
So when that same sequence played out to form last night, it hardly merited hysteria -- even if the win it generated registered as historic.
Jose Guillen hit a bases-loaded single in the seventh inning to score Tony Blanco, and starter John Patterson pitched seven strong innings to give the Nationals a 2-1, come-from-behind win over the Seattle Mariners at RFK Stadium. More important than the win, though, were the landmarks the game established.
The 39,108 fans who attended pushed the Nationals' season attendance over 1 million, a mark the franchise reached only once in the previous seven years.
The Nationals have won nine straight, the franchise's longest streak since the Montreal Expos won a team-record 10 in a row in 1997. Washington has won nine consecutive home games for the first time since the Washington Senators did that in 1933.
And, predictably, it all happened thanks to the team's 25th comeback of the season -- also the 12th comeback in its last 13 wins.
"In this game, we always seemed like we were in control of it," Manager Frank Robinson said, "even when we hadn't scored and were down by a run."
That's how it has become for the Nationals, who remained in first place by 11/2 games in the National League East. A comeback, by its very nature, should be surprising, but all of RFK Stadium seemed to anticipate Guillen's game-winning single last night. Carlos Baerga singled off J.J. Putz (1-2), and Blanco came in to run for him. Brad Wilkerson and Ryan Church walked to load the bases.
Then Guillen brought the rally to its peak, slapping a single to center field. The crowd reacted with a standing ovation; Guillen reacted with cool indifference. After the game, he raced into the clubhouse and changed quickly before leaving in a limousine for the Mike Tyson fight.
"We felt like we were going to win the whole game," said Cristian Guzman, who had two hits and scored to tie the game on a Marlon Byrd triple in the fifth inning. "It's not a big deal to be down by a run or two anymore. We've got so much confidence, and we expect to come back."
That the Nationals ever had a deficit to come back from registered as the bigger surprise. Seattle scored its only run on a fluke grounder in the fifth inning. With two outs and Mike Morse on second base, Ichiro Suzuki slapped a grounder to first. It looked like a harmless roller, and Nick Johnson knelt casually to pick it up. A few feet before the ball reached Johnson, though, it hopped five feet into the air and over the first baseman's shoulder.
Morse crossed home plate smiling; Ichiro rounded first base on what was ruled a single; Johnson, like a confused little leaguer, looked quizzically at the ground in front of him and searched for a rock.
Even that bad break, though, barely disrupted Patterson's rhythm. The lanky right-hander, who came into the game with five consecutive no-decisions, pitched seven solid innings and worked his way out of a few jams to earn the win. He negated a strong start by Seattle's Jamie Moyer (six innings, one run) by keeping the Mariners guessing.
Patterson allowed one run on six hits, struck out five and walked one, and he saved he best for his final inning.
In the bottom of the seventh, with one out and Morse on third base, Patterson got Greg Dobbs to foul out. Then, after a conference at the mound with Robinson and the infielders, Patterson got Ichiro on an inning-ending fly ball.
"I wanted Ichiro," Patterson (3-1) said. "I was confident I could get him out in that situation. I wanted to stay in for that, and I'm thankful that I could. I competed real well with runners on base all game."