- The Washington Times - Friday, April 8, 2005

PHILADELPHIA. — Jose Vidro won yesterday’s game for the Washington Nationals with a 10th-inning home run to break a tie with the Philadelphia Phillies. Get used to it. This is what Jose Vidro does — he gets hits that win games such as yesterday’s 5-4 victory to clinch the series against the Phillies.

Vidro was second on the Montreal Expos last year with eight game-winning RBI, even though he suffered through much of the season with an injured right knee before undergoing surgery in early September.

At 30, the three-time All-Star second baseman is the heart of this Nationals team, and he welcomes that role — just like he welcomes the chance to come up to the plate with a chance to win the game.

“He’s a clutch hitter,” said teammate Brad Wilkerson. “We know he is going to hit.”

Manager Frank Robinson, who knows a thing or two about clutch hitting, said some hitters are simply better with the game on the line.

“Some hitters don’t focus as well in those situations, and the ones who are able to do that are more successful,” he said. “Tony Perez was a very good clutch hitter. I had him in Puerto Rico one year and asked him, ‘With men on in scoring position, what are your thoughts up there at the plate?’ He said, ‘The only thing I’m thinking out there is that I’m not in trouble — the pitcher is the one who is in trouble.’ ”

When Vidro led off the 10th inning yesterday, Phillies pitcher Rheal Cormier was in trouble.

Vidro first tried to bunt his way on base to get something going. After he had two strikes, a bunt wasn’t going to work.

A home run would — and did.

“The team counts on you,” Vidro said. “It’s not going to happen every time, but you always have to be ready. When you do it like I did today, it feels very good. That is what they expect me to do.”

The Nationals expect a healthy Vidro do to those things. No one was certain how Vidro would respond from knee surgery. There were doubts, including his own.

“When spring training started, I was very pleased because I felt good,” he said. “But then there were times when I didn’t feel very comfortable and wondered if everything would be OK. But once the games started, I felt stronger and stronger every day, and I thought I had a good chance to be out there 100 percent when the season started. That’s the way I feel right now.”

Robinson said he doesn’t believe Vidro is 100 percent yet.

“He’s not quite there yet and, yeah, there’s been a little doubt in his mind sometimes about his knee,” he said. “But he hasn’t let it stop him. He wants to be out there and, hopefully, he will get better as he goes along. Hopefully, he won’t have any setbacks. It would be a big loss if we lost him for any length of time.”

The Nationals have him for the next four years because Vidro — one of the best offensive second basemen in the game, with a career .304 average, 102 home runs and 472 RBI, including a .330 average, 24 home runs and 97 RBI in 2000 — signed a four-year, $30 million contract extension last season.

At the time, it perhaps seemed foolish, given the uncertainty of the club’s future, though he did have a provision in the contract that allowed him to demand a trade. But he wanted to be part of the franchise’s future. He had seen the down times over eight seasons in Montreal. He wanted to be around for the good times in Washington.

“I was told that a lot of things were going to change,” he said. “I was told about moving to Washington, too.

“When I signed a lot of people questioned why I did it. But it seems like a good decision right now. … This is the place I feel comfortable. I run things in this clubhouse. The guys here respect me here, and I respect all of them. It feels good it is that way. For me to stay here, this is my home.”

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