- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2005

MIAMI — The Washington Nationals acquired Jose Guillen over the winter because they believed the talented but controversial outfielder was the kind of player who could lift an entire team on his shoulders and carry it to victory.

So far Guillen is making them look pretty smart.

Twice in the last four days Guillen has hit a game-winning homer for the Nationals. He did it in the eighth inning Wednesday night in Philadelphia to lift Washington to its first-ever win. He did it again last night, sending a solo shot off Antonio Alfonseca to dead center in the 10th inning to give Washington a thrilling 3-2 victory over the Florida Marlins.

“I’m not at the point where I say, ‘Let’s get him up there [with the game on the line], but I’m leaning that way after tonight,” manager Frank Robinson said. “He just seems to have a knack in the clutch.”

Guillen, now hitting .348 with two homers and three RBI in five games, came to the plate with two out in the 10th and the Nationals still slightly numb after closer Chad Cordero blew a 2-1, ninth-inning lead.

Alfonseca (0-1) got ahead of Guillen 0-2 but left his next pitch out over the plate and could only watch as Guillen lofted it just over the center-field fence 407 feet from home plate.

“This is what I do. This is my job. This is what I play for,” said Guillen, who twisted his right ankle in the field early in the game but would not come out. “I was in serious pain earlier. But I was going to finish.”

Guillen’s homer came only minutes after Paul Lo Duca appeared to win the game for the Marlins with two out in the bottom of the ninth. Two batters after Carlos Delgado tied the game with a moon shot to right field, Lo Duca crushed a pitch from Cordero (2-0) to left.

The Florida catcher immediately pointed his right index finger toward the home dugout and began a home run trot, but he was stunned when the ball glanced off the top of the fence, forcing him to settle for a 350-foot single.

Lo Duca wasn’t the only one who thought he had just won. In the Nationals dugout, Robinson assumed the ball was gone. Cordero, who suffered his first blown save but ultimately earned his second win, thought the same.

“Yeah, I did,” he said. “I thought it had enough under it.”

Left fielder Ryan Church said the ball missed clearing the fence by three or four inches. Turns out that was the difference in the ballgame.

Church, making his first start of the year after battling a strained groin for the last week, gave the Nationals a 1-0 lead when he homered off Brian Moehler leading off the fifth inning. Vinny Castilla followed with a shot of his own to make it 2-0.

That appeared to be enough run support for Washington starter Livan Hernandez, who shook off his shaky Opening Day outing and returned to toss seven standout innings.

The only smudge on Hernandez’s line was an unearned run in the sixth that he nearly prevented from scoring with his pure athleticism.

With runners on first and second and one out, Hernandez got Delgado to hit a hard grounder to first baseman Nick Johnson. Johnson fired to shortstop Cristian Guzman for the force out, then watched as Hernandez outran Delgado to first. Guzman’s throw, though, was wide, and bounced off Delgado’s left knee, allowing Juan Encarnacion to score.

Hernandez didn’t let the throwing error get to him. He retired Mike Lowell on a comebacker to end the sixth, then coaxed a 4-6-3 double play out of Alex Gonzalez to end the seventh.

“I came in here today ready to do my job on the mound,” Hernandez said. “I think [this start] was important for me. I had good control and no mistakes.”

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