Jose Guillen's 1,000th career hit couldn't have been much bigger.
With his Washington Nationals seemingly about to fall out of the National League wild-card chase, Guillen's two-run double in the eighth inning capped an improbable four-run rally that gave them an 8-6 victory over the division-leading Atlanta Braves last night before 36,295 at RFK Stadium.
Guillen didn't know he was close to the 1,000-hit milestone until he was told during batting practice. He reached it dramatically with a shot to right field off Braves reliever Dan Kolb in the first of a three-game weekend series.
With the win, the Nationals (73-69) snapped a three-game losing streak and moved within three games of the Houston Astros in the NL wild-card race.
"I don't know the last time I had a big hit like that here at home to win a game," Guillen said of his team-leading 12th game-winning RBI this season. "I'm pretty sure if we lost that game, our season would be pretty much over."
Guillen said he will auction off the ball and bat, with proceeds going to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Brad Wilkerson set the table for Guillen's heroics, tying the game 6-6 with a two-run double of his own down the right-field line that scored pinch hitter Ryan Church and Cristian Guzman, both of whom both walked with nobody out.
"I didn't think [Braves reliever John Foster] was going to throw me a fastball on 1-0 with a base open in that spot," Wilkerson said. "But he threw it and left it up in the zone and I hit it hard."
Closer Chad Cordero came on in the ninth inning to record his franchise-record 44th save, breaking John Wetteland's mark set in 1993. Of all Cordero's saves this season, few if any were more important than last night's 1-2-3 ninth inning because of the way the Nationals had rallied and what was at stake.
"If you go out there and lose this game, we might be done," Cordero said. "To go out there and get this win and this type of win is great.
Nationals reliever Gary Majewski (3-3) picked up the win pitching a scoreless eighth. Foster (4-2) took the loss for the Braves (81-60).
Earlier, Braves slugger Andruw Jones appeared to break open a close game by belting his league-leading 46th home run in the fifth inning off Nationals starter Esteban Loaiza.
Loaiza allowed six runs on 10 hits in six innings. Jones effectively ended Loaiza's night with a towering three-run blast into the left-field bullpen that gave the Braves what looked like an insurmountable 6-2 lead. For the game, Jones went 2-for-4 with a home run, double and four RBI.
With leadoff man Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles aboard, Jones' blast barely cleared the fence and the outstretched glove of Nationals left fielder Marlon Byrd. Jones needs one more home run to tie the franchise record shared by Braves icons Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews.
The Braves opened the game off Loaiza in strong fashion. With two outs, Chipper Jones singled to center. and Andruw Jones drove him in with a double into the left-field gap. Adam LaRoche then added an RBI double off the right-field fence to give Atlanta a 2-0 lead.
The Nationals responded with one run of their own in the first inning.
With one out in the bottom of the first, Braves starter Horacio Ramirez walked Byrd. Byrd then took second when Ramirez threw a wild pitch in the dirt to Jose Guillen. Byrd really must have annoyed Ramirez because Ramirez tried to pickoff Byrd at second.
Trailing 2-1, the Nationals tied it in the fourth inning when light-hitting shortstop Cristian Guzman delivered a double to the alley in right that scored Deivi Cruz on a close play at the plate.
After Andruw Jones' homer gave the Braves a four-run lead, the Nationals kept chipping away with Preston Wilson's RBI single in the fifth and Vinny Castilla's solo homer in the seventh.