Thursday, June 16, 2005

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Of all the juicy plot lines that could have developed between the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Angels last night, just about the last one on anyone’s mind was a brilliant pitching performance from Ryan Drese and a 1-0 victory.

Another altercation between managers Frank Robinson and Mike Scioscia, who went toe-to-toe Tuesday and created a national buzz over their war of words? That’s what everybody expected to see.

A controversial outburst from Jose Guillen, who nearly went ballistic during Tuesday’s fracas? Wouldn’t have been surprising at all.

But a two-hitter from Drese, the recently acquired, struggling right-hander, in his Nationals debut? What were the odds?

Then again, Washington has catapulted its way to the top of the National League East precisely because of unlikely performances like Drese’s. This team keeps remarking how it has featured a new hero every night, so why shouldn’t Drese join the club?

He did so with authority, offering up perhaps the Nationals’ best pitching performance of the season: Eight innings, two hits, no runs. Not bad for a guy who was claimed off waivers from the Texas Rangers five days ago.

Drese’s pitching prowess helped lead Washington to an impressive series win over the first-place Angels. After taking two of three from Los Angeles, the Nationals (39-27) remain baseball’s hottest club. They left town for Texas knowing they continued to hold at least a two-game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies.

They also know they managed to channel all their aggression from Tuesday night’s incident into some inspired play on the field. While the Angels complained about the ejection of reliever Brendan Donnelly for having pine tar on his glove, the Nationals kept their calm and outplayed their opponents for two straight nights.

Given all that transpired Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon, there was plenty of anticipation for the start of this game.

If there was going to be any retaliation from the Angels, it figured to come in the top of the first, with Guillen batting third. The Nationals’ combustible right fielder, who again was booed at every possible moment by the sellout crowd of 43,505, even seemed to welcome the possibility of a high-and-tight pitch from Bartolo Colon.

“I’ve never been afraid of anyone. I never will be afraid of anyone,” Guillen said before the game. “I hope that happens. Then, we’ll teach them about retaliation.”

Alas, there was none from Colon, only the kind of dominant pitching Angels fans have come to expect from the big right-hander. This is, after all, the man who led the majors with 53 wins from 2002 to 2004 [-] more than Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez and Mark Mulder.

Colon (8-4) flashed his usual dominance early last night, retiring the first 11 batters he faced. Not until Guillen lined a single up the middle with two outs in the fourth did the Nationals put a man on base, and even then Colon responded by retiring the next four Washington batters.

The big blow finally came in the sixth inning, though, from an unlikely source. Brian Schneider, the Nationals’ .239-hitting catcher, connected on Colon’s first pitch of the inning and deposited it over the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center for his fourth homer of the season.

Given a 1-0 cushion, Drese (1-0) went out and made the lead hold up. The major league-leading 42nd player used by Washington this season was fabulous in his debut, allowing only a shallow single to Orlando Cabrera in the third and a single to Adam Kennedy in the eighth.

The only other Angel to reach base through the first six innings was Darin Erstad, who walked three times.

Otherwise, Drese recorded all but two of his first 18 outs on groundballs or strikeouts [-] a clear indication the sinker that reportedly eluded him in Texas was working this night.

He departed after eight innings, giving way to closer Chad Cordero. Cordero created a major jam in the ninth, allowing a leadoff single to Erstad, a walk to Vladimir Guerrero and a single to Garret Anderson. But he somehow recorded three straight outs to earn his major league-leading 21st save and put one last stamp on a remarkable game.

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