- The Washington Times - Friday, April 8, 2005

PHILADELPHIA — Yes, it’s only three games into a 162-game season. And yes, plenty of teams play well the first week in April only to find themselves out of the race by Memorial Day.

There is, however, something about how the Washington Nationals came from behind the last two days to topple the Philadelphia Phillies that makes you wonder whether this team is capable of doing more than you might expect.

There certainly was a positive vibe circulating through the clubhouse after yesterday’s 5-4, 10-inning win over the Phillies before 21,693 at Citizens Bank Park. Less than 24 hours earlier, this same outfit rallied to earn the first win in the relocated club’s brief history.

“It says a lot about this ballclub,” said second baseman Jose Vidro, whose solo homer in the top of the 10th won yesterday’s game. “It’s a mature ballclub now. It’s early in the season, and it’s tough to predict what’s going to happen, but we’ve got to feel good the way things are going right now, especially the way we’re swinging the bats.”

About those bats. … Only a few days ago, observers both outside and inside the organization were questioning whether the Nationals had enough firepower in their lineup to win games.

Three games in, there isn’t much to question. With an 11-hit showing yesterday, Washington left town for a weekend series in Florida with 40 total hits and a .339 team batting average that is among the best in baseball.

“It’s very impressive,” manager Frank Robinson said. “If you had seen us in spring training, you’d have said, ‘Wow!’ I didn’t expect it. It’s good to see. Hopefully, we’ll continue to swing the bats well.”

Though there have been individual heroics from the likes of Vidro, Jose Guillen and Brad Wilkerson (who went 4-for-5 yesterday after hitting for the cycle Wednesday night), the Nationals’ hot hitting has been a collective effort. Six different regulars — Vidro, Guillen and Wilkerson, plus Vinny Castilla, Nick Johnson and Brian Schneider — had at least three hits in the season-opening series.

“This team doesn’t have any outs,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “A pitcher doesn’t look at this lineup and say, ‘I can get him out, or I can get him out.”

One of Washington’s toughest outs these days is Guillen, who hit the eventual game-winning homer Wednesday night and jump-started yesterday’s rally by tripling off the center-field fence to lead off the eighth. Moments later, Guillen scored on Johnson’s hard grounder off first base, tying the game 4-4.

Two innings later, Vidro slammed a 1-2 fastball from lefty Rheal Cormier into the left-field bleachers, giving the Nationals the lead for good.

“It feels really good, especially the way we came back and tied the game and went ahead,” said Vidro, who actually showed bunt at the beginning of the at-bat. “I feel good that I was able to pull the team to win the ballgame.”

Yet Vidro’s homer would been wasted had not closer Chad Cordero not shut down the Phillies with two brilliant innings of relief. The 23-year-old right-hander entered in the ninth with the score tied, then earned his first win by taking out the heart of Philadelphia’s lineup — Bobby Abreu, Jim Thome and Pat Burrell — in the 10th.

The young Cordero hardly looked fazed by Thome and Burrell, striking out both sluggers on wicked, 79 mph sliders and not letting a dropped foul ball distract him.

“That’s why he’s in the position he’s in,” Robinson said. “He doesn’t let things bother him. He keeps the same demeanor all the time.”

Lost in the shuffle was a stellar outing by Nationals No. 3 starter Esteban Loaiza, who retired the first 12 batters but suffered a hiccup of sorts in the sixth when Wilkerson’s fielding error helped open the door for three runs to score.

“He had a tremendous ballgame until that happened,” Robinson said. “I’ll take that every time out.”

And the Nationals will take two of three on the road against a division opponent anytime, as well. Especially when it means they can open up the paper this morning in Miami and see themselves tied for first place in the National League East.

Not bad for a team’s psyche.

“It can only help,” Wilkerson said. “After a tough loss Opening Day, guys settled in. We swung the bats well all series, pitched well. All in all, we had a great series.”

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