Nationals 6, Mets 3
-- With what is going on in Philadelphia, in Houston and in Miami, the events at Shea Stadium Wednesday could seem trivial, very much on the fringes of the National League's playoff chase. But the fact that the Washington Nationals are, realistically, on the outside of the playoff chase doesn't prevent bizarre events from developing each time they go to the stadium. Every day, it seems, something -- be it dramatic or droll, funny or infuriating -- happens to the Nationals. Every single day.
So it was Wednesday night, when the focus might have been on a 6-3 Washington victory over the New York Mets, their second straight to open a six-game road trip that will determine whether they remain in contention for the NL wild-card playoff berth. But when right fielder Jose Guillen was ejected in the top of the fifth, then littered the field with a yard sale's worth of items from the dugout, there was yet another subplot, something else that threatened to overshadow the action in the game.
"We win," Guillen said afterward. "That's it."
Well, no, that's not it. But it still, at this late date, remains important, so let's get that stuff out of the way. The victory means the Nationals pulled within three games of front-running Florida and Philadelphia in the ever-evolving wild-card race. "We're still battling," said starter Esteban Loaiza, and even in a clubhouse that occasionally appears to be slumbering, it's hard to debate.
The Nationals won because Loaiza pitched seven effective innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and no walks. They won because Preston Wilson and Vinny Castilla hit back-to-back homers in the fifth to break a tie, because Nick Johnson went 3 for 5 with two doubles and two RBI, and because Chad Cordero notched his major league leading 46th save. Headed into Thursday afternoon's series finale, the Nationals have an opportunity for just their second three-game sweep of an opponent in the second half of the season.
But add Guillen's ejection, his first of the year, to the long list of sideshows this team has endured. Guillen led off the top of the fifth having singled in his previous at-bat. Home plate umpire Bill Miller called Guillen out on strikes on an inside fastball from Mets starter Kris Benson, and Guillen had a few words for Miller about the second and third strikes, both called. At that point, it didn't look like anything unusual, for Guillen frequently converses with umpires who call him out on strikes. He had, to this point in the year, remained under control in such situations.
Yet with Johnson coming to the plate, Guillen yelled at Miller from the dugout.
"I said that was a [lousy] pitch," Guillen said, "and that was it. He just throw me out."
Miller concurred with that tale, but said both pitches were strikes, and that Guillen "yelled and cursed at me out of the dugout." That could have ended the episode, but it didn't.
Guillen's helmet appeared first, settling onto the field. He wasn't done. He went to the bat rack and grabbed four bats, hurling them onto the field, tossing his batting gloves in for good measure. As a bat boy collected those items, Guillen's shin protector came next. That was it, and as he made his way to the far end of the dugout and down the tunnel to the Nationals' clubhouse, not a single teammate patted him on the back or shook his hand.
"You know how he gets," Loaiza said. "Guillen is Guillen."
His infamous temper has flared at times this year -- most notably when he challenged Loaiza and catcher Brian Schneider in the dugout for not retaliating after Mets right-hander Pedro Martinez hit him with a pitch. His ejection followed Manager Frank Robinson's early exit Tuesday, one in which he argued with the umpires for some five minutes.
"It was an explosion," Robinson said of Guillen's exhibition. "He had to top me, you know?"
Guillen -- who said, "I take full responsibility for what I did" -- was pointed in his comments about umpires, just as Robinson has been in the past.
"A lot of these umpires, they think the fans come to the stadium to see them," he said. "It's sometimes not right, some of that stuff. Right now, they look like they have full power in baseball. They can do whatever they want. They get away with a lot of stuff."
Thus continued the outside-the-lines nature of the Nationals' season. Robinson has issued fines to players for not hustling and for missing signs. Two pitchers, Zach Day and Tomo Ohka, showed up Robinson by turning their backs when they were removed early from games, and both were eventually traded. Guillen had his episode in the dugout after the Martinez incident on July 5. Twenty players have gone on the disabled list, and they have used a franchise-record 55 players.
So, at times, there has been a need for therapy. General Manager Jim Bowden met privately with the entire team during one low point. Robinson met privately with the entire team for hours, a meeting in which Guillen and outfielder Brad Wilkerson exchanged words. And nearly two weeks ago, Robinson shut down all clubhouse music, television and card games because he thought the atmosphere was too casual. Walk through the clubhouse door, from one day to the next, and there's no telling what might happen.
But the flurry around Guillen was quickly quieted when, on consecutive pitches, Wilson and Castilla homered in the fifth, just one batter after Guillen made his exit. "It made it a more happy atmosphere in the dugout," Robinson said.
And, for one more day, it made sure that whatever the unexpected subplot, the Nationals are still, somehow, hanging around the playoff race, awaiting whatever happens next.