WASHINGTON - So what could the Washington Nationals do for an encore?
One game after their giddy home-opening win, the first-place Nationals got another top-notch pitching performance and continued heroics from third baseman Vinny Castilla last night en route to a 9-3 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Castilla followed his three-hit, four-RBI performance in Thursday night's opener with three more hits and four more RBIs, including his third home run.
And John Patterson followed Livan Hernandez's strong pitching start Thursday night with a beauty of his own. Patterson, nearly relegated to the bullpen as the season began, surrendered no runs and four hits in seven innings and didn't allow a runner to reach third base.
There may have been fewer fans watching than in the opener - 34,943 showed up on a chilly night at RFK Stadium compared with 45,596 in the opener. The fans on Thursday included President Bush, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
But the result was the same: another solid win, the club's fourth in a row.
"We can compete," said manager Frank Robinson. "I'm not saying we're going to win the National League East. But you never know what's going to happen down the line."
Who needs the president at the game when you have Castilla, who is 6-for-6 in the past two games?
"He's a great RBI man," teammate Brad Wilkerson said of Castilla. "He's proved that year after year."
The Nationals knew they would attract plenty of fans this season because of the novelty of being the city's first baseball team since 1971. What the fans may not have expected is that they would - at least so far - be watching a winner.
The Nationals ended the night in a position few baseball teams in the city's past were familiar with: first place.
Granted, the victory came against one of the few clubs the former Montreal Expos have dominated. The Expos/Nationals entered the game having won seven straight against Arizona. The last time the franchise had beaten anybody eight times in a row was a 15-game streak against the San Diego Padres that ended in 1995.
But first place is first place, even if it's still mid-April.
Robinson's enthusiasm was tempered after the game.
"We're not going to score nine runs or seven runs on a given night," the manager said. "We're still going to live on close games this year; we know that."
But Robinson said: "We have guys who can get you a big hit, and we have guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark."
Patterson (1-1) struck out six - all were caught looking - and walked one.
The Nats took a 2-0 lead in the fourth.
After Ryan Church walked with two outs, Castilla lined a home run over the left-field wall on the first pitch from losing pitcher Russ Ortiz (1-1).
Washington scored seven runs on five hits in the seventh, highlighted by a three-run double by Jose Vidro, to put the game away.
Castilla had two hits in the inning. He opened the spree with a single to right. A single by Brian Schneider and a walk to pinch hitter Terrmel Sledge loaded the bases. Wilkerson followed with a two-run single.
After Nick Johnson was hit by a pitch, Vidro cleared the bases with his double off reliever Randy Choate to the gap in right-center to make it 7-0.
Arizona's Luis Gonzalez hit a three-run homer off reliever Luis Ayala in the eighth.
Opponent: Arizona Diamondbacks
Site, time: RFK Stadium, Washington, 1:05 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 20/1050 AM
Starters: Diamondbacks' Brad Halsey (1-0, 1.80) vs. Nationals' Esteban Loaiza (0-0, 4.61)