- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Before last night’s game against the Colorado Rockies at RFK Stadium, Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson said he spent part of the day meditating about his lineup.

Meditating won’t cut it today, though. Praying, maybe. Drinking, perhaps. But after last night’s sloppy 5-4 loss to the Rockies, meditating just isn’t going to get it done.

Robinson returned to the friendly territory of RFK yesterday looking for a fresh start. His team had lost three out of four in Milwaukee after the All-Star break, giving them only three victories in their last 11 games.

The meditation was a joke, of course. At least it seemed like one, unless he has a different concept of meditating. It’s hard to imagine Robinson sitting on the floor in a room filled with lighted candles, chanting his mantra.

Just what is Frank Robinson’s mantra, anyway?

“I can’t say it,” he said before the game. “It’s not the usual basic meditation word. And I’m not standing on my head, either.”

He may have been standing on his head when he got home after watching his team commit three errors, including a key one by third baseman Vinny Castilla (his second of the game) in the ninth inning that allowed the winning run to score.

Said one club official after the loss, anger in his voice: “Now we’re finding ways to lose.”

No, this was not a night for Zen-like behavior. This was the kind of loss in which the hardest thing for the Nationals to do was manage their anger, which at least made Jose Guillen feel like he had company.

There were no outbursts in the Nationals clubhouse after the loss, but it was as bleak and tense as it has been all year. Cristian Guzman, the weak-hitting (0-for-3 last night, .190 average for the season), $16.8 million shortstop, has become the target of criticism for the team’s woes of late, and he did his best to become a bull’s eye last night by committing an error to allow a run to score in the sixth inning, then failing to get down a sacrifice bunt in the eighth inning with the score tied at 4-4.

Still, the message Robinson delivered before the game stood. The Nationals are not losing because of Cristian Guzman. This has been a team breakdown.

“If it was just him, it would be a little different,” Robinson said when asked why he hasn’t benched Guzman. “This whole offense has shut down. If you are going to take Guzman out, that doesn’t mean [Jose] Guillen, [Brad] Wilkerson, [Brian] Schneider, [Ryan] Church, [Preston] Wilson and those guys are going to start hitting. If you can guarantee me that, I’ll take him out.

“He hasn’t kept us from winning,” Robinson said, although after watching Guzman’s embarrassing attempt to bunt last night, it may be too painful to keep sending him out there. The shortstop is on the brink of taking the heat for the entire team, and it could snowball into something far more damaging to his psyche than a stint on the bench.

Whatever plagues Guzman is spreading, and that has Robinson concerned.

“Not hitting is one thing,” Robinson said after the game. “But when you can’t execute defensive plays, something else is wrong.

“This has been going on for quite some time and getting worse and worse as we go along. It seems like we are in a fog.”

Now the obvious questions will start hounding the Nationals — is it a fog, or were their 52 wins and perch atop the NL East at the All-Star break an aberration? Is Washington’s play of late a reflection of a team at the bottom of nearly every offensive category in the National League and in the most competitive division in baseball?

Despite the losses, that doesn’t seem to be true. The Nationals are not getting killed; they simply are making mistakes. A team that lives on the edge cannot afford to give away anything.

“As bad as we have been, a key hit at the right time and we would have won a few of those games,” Robinson said before the game.

Not by committing errors or failing to execute bunts, though. If you are a limited team and you start failing in the few things you do well, you have a team that soon will be going the wrong way in the NL East.

A somber Robinson declared after the loss that this was “the worst game we played all year long. It is not acceptable and will not be acceptable. … I am not going to accept that. … It is a lack of execution, as far as I’m concerned. We are not executing, offensively and defensively.”

It is time for this team to find out what it is really made of. Meditating, no. Soul searching, yes.



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