Nationals 7, Pirates 4
-- Admittedly, adrenaline was still pumping through Eddie Rodriguez's body from early in the afternoon until 20 minutes after the game ended. "I felt it then," he said, "and I feel it now."
Rodriguez, though, might have been the only man wearing a Washington Nationals uniform to feel that way Monday night, because this was as sure a thing as there is in baseball. Despite the fact that Manager Frank Robinson -- serving a one-game suspension for last week's episode in Anaheim, Calif. -- looked on from the stands, and despite the fact that Rodriguez, the club's bench coach, took over managing duties, the Nationals received precisely the ingredients they need from precisely the players they expect to deliver in a 7-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The first ingredient: right-hander Livan Hernandez, who threw seven innings, allowed two earned runs and yielded eight hits, all singles, to become just the third 10-game winner in the National League. Next up: two home runs from right fielder Jose Guillen, who sparked an offense that ripped out 12 hits.
Those two players helped Rodriguez's heart stop pounding a bit. But the final, most important aspect, came in the fourth inning, when Brad Wilkerson poked a two-out, two-run single to the opposite field, giving the Nationals a 5-1 lead. That play could easily be buried in all the activity of the day -- Hernandez's performance, Guillen's 12th and 13th homers, Robinson sitting out, the Nationals increasing their lead in the NL East to three games over idle Philadelphia.
Yet look at the Nationals' entire season. They have now scored five or more runs 26 times. Their record in those games: 25-1.
"It shows you we're not scoring eight and giving up 10," said catcher Brian Schneider, who chipped in with three hits. "It shows you how many quality starts that we're getting from our pitchers. I mean, whoa. It's an amazing stat."
Guillen added to the advantage -- and scored the final run off Pittsburgh starter Mark Redman -- with his second homer of the day to center field, making it his third multi-homer game of the year. The 6-1 lead allowed Rodriguez, who had more than a little extra pep in his step when he found out he would manage, to relax a bit more in the dugout and just run the game.
"I think it makes it easy for any manager in that situation when you have a 6-1 lead," Rodriguez said. "You kind of tend to manage the game, but at an easier pace."
Robinson's day never picked up pace. He was originally suspended for one game on Friday following Tuesday's run-in with Anaheim Angels Manager Mike Scioscia, a heated exchange that resulted in both benches clearing. But Robinson wanted a chance to be heard, and while there is no formal appeals process for managers, baseball officials granted him a 25-minute teleconference at noon Monday. The suspension was upheld, and Robinson remained in brown slacks and a button-down shirt.
"They expect more from the managers of the ballclubs -- that's the way they put it," Robinson said prior to the game. "That's what I couldn't accept and won't accept and will never accept, is why the penalties were the same."
Scioscia served his suspension Friday. Both managers were fined $1,000. The hearing involved MLB Executive Vice President John McHale, Vice President for On-field Operations Bob Watson, Robinson and Nationals assistant general manager Tony Siegle. Reached by phone Monday afternoon, Watson referred questions to McHale, who handled the case. McHale did not return a phone message Monday.
So how did Robinson handle things, watching his club among the 21,893 on hand at PNC Park?
"It's no fun," Robinson said. "It's a different situation. I'm not used to that. I'm used to being in the dugout, where you're involved in the game and dealing with players."
Fortunately, there was very little with which to deal, and several players contributed, including Cristian Guzman, who hit a two-run double in the second, and later added a triple. That raised his average to .212, the highest it has been since May 17.
But it started, as it normally does with these Nationals, with the starting pitcher, and Hernandez performed the way his teammates have come to expect. He allowed plenty of base runners, but he identified the Pirates as contact hitters, so he induced four double-play balls. Pitching with a lead helped.
"If [the starters] fall behind, they think that they have to pick, because they have to make good pitches to stay in the game," Schneider said. "When they get that lead, they say, 'Okay, I got that three-run lead. I can go out and try and make better pitches and be myself.' "
Part of being Hernandez is that he's very rarely going to surrender such an advantage. The only dicey situation came in the seventh inning, when third baseman Vinny Castilla threw away what might have been another double play, leaving the bases loaded with nobody out. Jack Wilson followed with a two-run single, and the Pirates closed the gap to 6-4.
"You feel bad when it happens," Castilla said.
But, at the same time, there is that magic number. The Nationals had already scored five runs. How, behind Hernandez, could they lose?
"When he gets a lead like that," Guillen said, "he's not going to give it up."
Which he didn't. Rodriguez's toughest decision during his cameo came after the seventh, when Hernandez had thrown 107 pitches -- 10 below his average. He approached Hernandez in the dugout and said, "Livo, that's it."
Which is, basically, the Nationals' message to the rest of the league when they hang up those five runs: That's it.