Nationals 3, Mets 2

When he arrived at second base, albeit a bit awkwardly, he clapped his hands, doubled over at the waist, and pointed to the dugout. But the emotion really hit Jose Vidro moments later, after he pumped his legs around third, sliding into home. The last time he did that, two months and one day earlier, his left leg caught the ground. He sprained his ankle, damaging tendons, and was gone, the star who became an afterthought as the Washington Nationals became baseball's best story.

Last night, though, Vidro reinserted himself into the plot. When he slid across the plate with the final run in the Nationals' 3-2 victory over Pedro Martinez and the New York Mets, he kicked his legs in the air, then cautiously pulled himself from the ground into the waiting arms of teammate Carlos Baerga, where, by his own admission, his smile spanned sideburn-to-sideburn, and the crowd of 35,087 at RFK Stadium roared its approval.

"He was tired, so tired," Baerga said. "But he was laughing. He was just happy to score, happy to be back."

And the Nationals were happy to have him. Vidro, the three-time all-star who last played on May 4, was activated from the disabled list yesterday afternoon, and in the lineup playing second base and batting second last night. In his first three at-bats against Mets ace Martinez -- Vidro's former teammate with the Montreal Expos -- he looked like a man who missed 54 games, with two flyouts and a three-pitch strikeout.

But in his final time up, he ripped Martinez's first pitch down the right field line, a two-out double that scored an insurance run to put the Nationals up 2-0 in the bottom of the seventh. He then scored on Jose Guillen's single, chugging in from second, nearly breaking up en route.

"I almost cried," Vidro said. "I'm not going to lie. I was very, very emotional. I love this game. I love to be out there."

That Vidro played a significant part in the victory -- the Nationals' 23rd by one run -- was a lift to everyone in the clubhouse, which was happy, if a bit tense, afterward. Vidro's run helped make a winner of starter Esteban Loaiza (5-5), who turned in perhaps his best performance of the year, taking a shutout into the ninth before allowing a leadoff single to Cliff Floyd and leaving it to closer Chad Cordero.

Things got a bit dicey, though, after Cordero struck out Mike Piazza. A bouncing single through the infield by Marlon Anderson put runners on the corners, and David Wright ripped a single to right. Floyd, however, hesitated to score from third, and Guillen uncorked a throw toward the plate.

"I was a little surprised," said Cordero, who admitted he should have been backing up either third or home. Yet no backup could have caught this wild toss, which sailed over catcher Brian Schneider to the backstop, a mental and physical error that put Anderson on third and Wright on second. The tying run was in scoring position.

Guillen's night had already been interesting. In the first, Martinez -- the Dominican diva who has long had a reputation for plunking batters who crowd the plate -- did just that to Guillen, who stood in the batter's box after a pitch hit his shoulder, tossed his bat down and ripped off his shin guard in disgust. His response, until that moment in the eighth, was admirable. He went 3 for 3 against Martinez.

Guillen arrived in Washington with a questionable reputation, but has been approachable and accommodating throughout this renaissance season, one in which Manager Frank Robinson has called him a leader. But before reporters could get to a question last night, he sat in his locker, raised his hand and snapped, "I don't want to talk to you guys."

On the field, the thought process that went into the throw didn't matter, but the result did. Cordero got the next hitter, Jose Reyes, to ground sharply to first baseman Wil Cordero, but Anderson scored on the play, pulling the Mets within one, moving the tying run to third. Yet Chad Cordero, who has teetered on the edge of disaster more than a few times this season, got pinch hitter Brian Daubach to pop up to short, saving his 30th game and rebounding from his performance Sunday, when he blew his first save in more than two months against the Chicago Cubs.

That preserved Loaiza's stellar outing, in which the Mets managed only six singles. In the offseason, nearly every baseball fan nationwide knew of Martinez's four-year, $53 million contract with the Mets, one that lured him from the Boston Red Sox, with whom he won a World Series. But a month after Martinez signed, the Nationals -- who live with a different fiscal reality -- signed Loaiza to a one-year, $2.9 million deal, and he has been quietly effective.

In reaching .500 for the first time this year, Loaiza not only outdueled Martinez -- who allowed eight hits and three runs in seven innings -- but lowered his ERA to 3.61, the 13th time in 17 starts he gave up three or fewer runs.

"What I did today," Loaiza said, "was amazing."

And what Vidro did, for the Nationals, was inspiring. The two months off were unwelcome, and he frequently dipped into the doldrums, relying on his wife, Annette, to pick him up. Last night, though, just smiles.

"You guys don't have any idea how much this means to me, to get back and get a 'W'," he said. "The last two months were hard for me, really hard for me. And now that I'm back, I'm just glad."

Jose Vidro, playing in his first game since May 4, beats the throw to Mets catcher Mike Piazza to give Washington a 3-0 lead in the 7th.Esteban Loaiza tips his hat to the crowd after pitching 8 innings. "What I did today was amazing."Jose Vidro: "I almost cried. I'm not going to lie. I was very, very emotional. I love this game. I love to be out there."Nats closer Chad Cordero sweats out his 30th save by getting Mets' pinch hitter Brian Daubach to pop up to short with the tying run on third in the 9th.