MILWAUKEE -- His shoulder hurts, his rib cage hurts and his foot hurts, but Jose Guillen won't use any of that as an excuse.
The inspirational right fielder of the Washington Nationals is a leader by example, and what better way for him to do that than take the field every night, then come through when his team needs him most?
Guillen did just that last night, further cementing his importance to this fragile club. His two-run single in the seventh inning propelled the Nationals to a 5-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.
More than that, it carried his teammates to a sorely needed win just when it looked like this bunch might never pull out a tight ballgame again.
"He is a guy you want to see come up to the plate," said manager Frank Robinson, whose club had lost four straight and seven of nine. "Each time he comes up, you expect something special will happen."
Even though Guillen is playing through a list of ailments.
There's a sore left shoulder, the result of a slide into the plate three weeks ago. There's a bruised rib cage, the result of a pitch too far inside. And there's the sore left foot, the result of a foul ball off his own bat.
The pain, particularly in the shoulder, became so bad that Guillen said he was planning to fly back to Washington on Thursday to be examined. He wound up deciding to stay and play through it.
"That's how much I care about winning," he said. "I don't think I should be playing, but I'm a grown man and I make my own decisions, and I think it would be better for me and for this team to stay here."
The Nationals are thankful he did. Despite carrying an 0-for-11 slump into the sixth inning of last night's game at Miller Park, Guillen beat out an infield single. One inning later, he broke a 3-3 tie by lacing a two-out single up the middle to score Carlos Baerga and Ryan Church.
It was Washington's biggest clutch hit in a while, and it came from a guy who's not even sure he's physically capable of playing right now.
"He's beat up. I think the only thing that's not sore on him is his head," Robinson said. "I'm amazed that he's able to go out there and really be able to perform the way he has."
Guillen's two-run single off reliever Ricky Bottalico (2-2) made a winner out of starter Esteban Loaiza and put Washington's bullpen in position to record the final nine outs and ensure the victory.
The relief corps did just that, looking much like its old self. Gary Majewski pitched the seventh, Mike Stanton rebounded from his balk debut the night before to retire the heart of the Brewers' lineup on five pitches in the eighth and Chad Cordero closed out the ninth to earn his 32nd save, recording the final out on a running catch against the fence by (who else?) Guillen.
Thus, the Nationals maintained their 1-game lead over the Atlanta Braves and regained some confidence that may have been lost in recent days.
"You go out there in that dugout during the game, and it doesn't look like we're pressured," said second baseman Jose Vidro, whose sixth-inning homer was his first since April20. "We didn't get the big hits the last couple of weeks. Tonight, we did it. Hopefully, it's a start."
There were a few moments of trepidation, though, when it looked like Washington's skid might continue.
Robinson and Co. had to be wondering about that in the sixth, when Loaiza (6-5) struck out Damian Miller apparently to end the inning, only to watch the ball squirt through catcher Gary Bennett's legs. Miller reached first on the wild pitch, and Geoff Jenkins sauntered in from third with the tying run.
"That's one of those things that's like one out of 100 that can happen," Loaiza said. "I actually told [teammate John] Patterson, 'There goes another no-decision for me.'"
But the Nationals weren't done yet. Baerga led off the seventh with a single, Church walked and the two moved up a base on Bottalico's wild pitch.
After Vidro grounded out, Guillen came up with an open base in front of him and Preston Wilson on deck. Milwaukee manager Ned Yost, though, elected to pitch to the slumping cleanup hitter, and he paid the price.
As he has done so many times this season, Guillen came through with the game on the line.
"I was amazed that they didn't walk him, and I was happy that they didn't, because I always feel like this guy is going to rise to the occasion," Robinson said. "He does more often than not."