Nats win 5th in row with six runs in 7th

Washington completes sweep of Diamondbacks with 7-3 comeback victory

Baseball

April 18, 2005|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Washington Nationals' love affair with their newly adopted city continued yesterday as they remained perfect at home, this time erasing a two-run deficit with a six-run, seventh-inning rally in front of another big, delighted crowd.

Washington's 7-3 triumph over the Arizona Diamondbacks was its fifth straight win, making the team 3-0 since arriving home after a nine-game road trip to begin the season.

The 35,463 fans showed their appreciation for the team's five-hit, six-run rally by literally shaking the old stands at RFK Stadium. The players said they loved the fans right back.

"Oh man, it's unbelievable," said Jose Vidro, whose two hits in the seventh included a two-run single. "When I look at the stands and see everybody jumping up and down, it's incredible. ... Fans play a big role in the success of this team."

What's not to like so far about 44-year-old RFK Stadium? Players say the high green wall provides a good hitting background. Since arriving at their new digs, the Nationals have outscored the Diamondbacks 21-9.

Arizona has now lost nine straight road games. But things get tougher for the Nationals, who are scheduled to face Dontrelle Willis (2-0) tonight as they begin a two-game series against the Florida Marlins. "He's a tough pitcher who's been tough on us ever since he came into the league," Nationals manager Frank Robinson said of Willis, who has yet to give up an earned run this season.

Yesterday, Robinson told reporters he wouldn't mind if the rest of the league ignored his club's early-season success. Asked if the team was making a "statement," Robinson said he hoped not.

"I just hope we can exist under the radar," he said.

The Nationals are averaging seven runs a game during the streak. But Robinson and the players chose to focus yesterday on a defensive play they said helped turn the game around.

It occurred in the seventh inning when Arizona, leading 3-1, put runners on first and third with nobody out. Joe Horgan replaced starting pitcher Esteban Loaiza and induced Luis Gonzalez to hit a ground ball to shortstop. Cristian Guzman snared the ball and hesitated long enough to look the runner back to third before converting a double play.

"The double play was really the key play there," Robinson said. "It may have taken a little of the heart out of the Diamondbacks."

Winning pitcher T.J. Tucker (1-0) replaced Horgan and got Troy Glaus to fly out to end the inning.

"If it's a 3-1 ballgame or 3-2 ballgame, we have to hold them right there and let the offense do its job," Tucker said.

The fielding gem may have lifted the spirits of Guzman, who entered the game stuck in a 5-for-41 slump and was hitless in three at-bats, although he walked in the seventh with the bases loaded.

Guzman, who had been batting eighth, was shifted yesterday to the second spot in the order to boost his confidence and try to get him some better pitches. Vinny Castilla moved up in the order from sixth to fifth.

Castilla popped up to the catcher in the second inning, ending a string of reaching base eight straight times.

But Castilla was in the thick of the seventh-inning rally, which began off starting pitcher Brad Halsey, who had only given up one run on five hits to that point.

Vidro began the inning with a single and Jose Guillen hit a ground-rule double to left. Castilla reached on a fielder's choice.

Nick Johnson followed with a triple to deep center. Guillen paused to make sure the ball wasn't caught and he and Castilla raced around the bases almost touching each other, sliding home one right after the next to tie the game at 3.

After pinch hitter Terrmel Sledge walked, Brian Schneider singled in Johnson to put the Nationals ahead for good.

Nats schedule

The week ahead

Date Opponent Time

4/18 Florida 7:05 p.m.

4/19 Florida 7:05 p.m.

4/20 Atlanta 7:05 p.m.

4/21 Atlanta 1:05 p.m.

4/22 at N.Y. Mets 7:10 p.m.

4/23 at N.Y. Mets 1:10 p.m.

4/24 at N.Y. Mets 1:10 p.m.

Nationals tonight

Opponent: Florida Marlins

Site, time: RFK Stadium, Washington, 7:05

TV/Radio: None/104.1 FM

Starters: Marlins' Dontrelle Willis (2-0, 0.00) vs. Nationals' Tomo Ohka (1-1, 4.50)

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