Nationals 5, Brewers 3
-- These kind of hits hadn't happened for more than a week, the kind with two outs, with runners in scoring position, the ones that turn tie games into wins. And when Jose Guillen strode to the plate in the top of the seventh inning Saturday night, with the Washington Nationals and Milwaukee Brewers knotted up, there was little evidence, in the immediate past, that Guillen would deliver. Since the all-star break, he had failed to hit a ball out of the infield. His left shoulder throbbed, as did his left foot.
"I shouldn't even be playing," he said afterward.
Yet when the Nationals needed it most, Guillen was there, sending a pitch from Milwaukee reliever Ricky Bottalico back through the middle, the hit that drove in two runs and essentially provided Washington with a 5-3 victory over the Brewers in front of 45,079 fans, the second-largest crowd in the brief history of Miller Park.
The hit, and the victory, were desperately needed. The Nationals ended their four-game losing streak and kept their lead in the National League East at 11/2 games over the Atlanta Braves by getting six strong innings from Esteban Loaiza, a pair of RBI doubles from Vinny Castilla, a homer from Jose Vidro, 12/3 innings from new reliever Mike Stanton -- who actually got to throw a pitch -- and Chad Cordero's 32nd save.
The victory also helped quell some of the uprising that still hung around the Nationals' clubhouse after Friday night's loss, in which Stanton -- signed on Wednesday after he was cut by the New York Yankees -- entered a tie game in the bottom of the 10th and, before throwing a pitch, was called for a balk that allowed the winning run to score. Robinson was adamant that Stanton's pickoff move was legal, and Saturday night, a DVD of the play sat on Robinson's desk. The manager was still contemplating whether to send it to the league office for review, though he conceded there was nothing officials could do to change the outcome of the game.
"You had to remind me of that," he said after Saturday's game, looking at the DVD.
For once in a long week, there were happier things to think about. Yet had Guillen not come through at that moment, the Nationals very well could have lost. He said afterward that the pain in his shoulder has been so bad that he was scheduled to fly to Washington and get a cortisone shot, but decided to stay with the team and keep playing. He wasn't himself. Through the first two games after the all-star break, and the first four innings Saturday night, he was 0 for 11 with five strikeouts and six groundouts. In the sixth, he finally managed an infield single.
"The only reason I'm playing is because I care about this team, and I want to win, and [because of] Frank and the type of attitude we have in here," Guillen said. "That's the motivation I got to keep playing. . . . I'm a grown enough man, and I make my own decisions, and I know it's going to be better for me and for this team."
Robinson said he knew about Guillen's condition.
"I think the only thing that's not sore on him is his head," Robinson said. "He's pretty beat up."
Prior to the break, Guillen challenged injured Nationals Ryan Church, Nick Johnson and Cristian Guzman -- who was ejected for arguing a called third strike Saturday -- to learn to play with pain. Saturday night, he pointed out how Castilla, first baseman Brad Wilkerson and catcher Brian Schneider had long been playing with injuries.
"Everybody's different," Guillen said.
When Guillen came through in the clutch, he provided the kind of hit the Nationals had been unable to get during their losing streak. The four losses were by a combined margin of five runs. This one felt like it might slip away in the same fashion. With a 3-2 lead, Loaiza got the first two outs in the sixth, but then allowed a single to Geoff Jenkins and a bloop single to Bill Hall. He made a nice, biting pitch to Damian Miller with two strikes, and Miller swung. Strikeout. End of inning.
Except the ball got past catcher Gary Bennett.
"I just missed it," Bennett said.
Instead, Jenkins scored the tying run from third.
"That was just one out of 100, that something would happen like that," Loaiza said. "And it happened."
Loaiza's 6-5 record belies the way he has pitched. He has eight no-decisions in 19 starts, and when he returned to the dugout after the sixth, he turned to fellow starter John Patterson, who has 11 no-decisions, and is starting to get frustrated.
"I actually told Patterson, I think it's going to be another no-decision for me," Loaiza said, "just like him."
But that was before the Nationals -- mercifully, finally -- managed a game-winning rally. Pinch hitter Carlos Baerga began it with a single against Bottalico, pinch hitter Ryan Church drew a one-out walk, and both moved up a base on a wild pitch. After Vidro grounded to first, Robinson said he got that feeling about Guillen.
"Each time he comes up, you expect something special will happen," Robinson said. "And sooner or later, you give him some shots in situations like the last one, he usually gets the job done, more often than not."
Saturday night, he did, breaking out of his slump and delivering a win that must have eased his pain like a shot of cortisone.