- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2005

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Inside a joyous Washington Nationals clubhouse late Wednesday night, Jose Guillen leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head and spoke with a determination previously unseen from the animated right fielder this year.

“What happened [Tuesday] night, I think that was a wake-up call for me,” Guillen said, referring to the bench-clearing incident involving his current manager (the Nationals’ Frank Robinson) and his previous one (the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Scioscia). “I think those guys woke me up. I was a totally different player after that.”

Guillen wasn’t the only one expressing that belief. Several teammates agreed the events of Tuesday’s seventh inning, which began with Robinson accusing Angels reliever Brendan Donnelly of having pine tar on his glove, represented a pivotal moment in this club’s increasingly remarkable run.

It’s hard to dispute their logic. Before Robinson and Scioscia went toe-to-toe, the Nationals looked overmatched by the Angels. They had been trounced in Monday’s series opener 11-1 and were trailing 3-1 in the second of the three-game set.

After the incident, Washington stormed its way back to an inspiring 6-3 victory, then returned Wednesday to win a tense, 1-0 game.

Crazy as it sounds, a team already riding high from its recent 10-game winning streak ascended to even loftier heights this week in Southern California.

“I know we were playing well,” infielder Carlos Baerga said. “But I believe that what happened [Tuesday] night got this team together even more.”

Guillen was front and center during the series, for both the right and wrong reasons. Mired in a mini-slump for the last month, Washington’s No. 3 hitter returned to his early-season form. He hit a two-run homer shortly after Tuesday’s fracas and went 2-for-4 Wednesday against Angels ace Bartolo Colon.

If Guillen had simply left it at that, if he had let his on-field actions stand on their own merits, he might have walked out of town with the upper hand. But as he sat in the visitors clubhouse and soaked in the scene, he chose to take the low road, firing off a flurry of shots at the Angels and Scioscia — the man who suspended him at the end of last season and changed the direction of his entire career.

“You know, it’s over, but I don’t really care about those guys,” Guillen said. “Like Frank said, I’ve got no respect for him anymore. I don’t want to make all these comments, but Mike Scioscia, to me, is like a piece of garbage. I don’t care if I get in trouble. … I’ve got no respect for him.”

With that verbal salvo, Guillen let his pent-up feelings about his unceremonious departure from Anaheim be known. For two days, he had dodged questions about his past, insisting he had moved on from his time as an Angel and was now committed solely to the Nationals.

But with an emotionally charged series finally behind him, and with his new team having just won back-to-back games, Guillen decided it was time to let it all hang out.

“You know what? I wanted to beat this team so bad,” he said. “I can never get over what happened last year. It’s something I’m never going to forget. Every time I play that team and Mike Scioscia, it’s always going to be personal.”

It’s perhaps best for everyone involved that these suddenly vicious rivals won’t see each other again for three years, unless they — gulp! — both make it to the World Series. But what a memorable interleague series they put on.

Tuesday’s melee garnered the most national attention, but Wednesday’s pitchers’ duel was spectacular in its own right. The Nationals scratched out one run off Colon (Brian Schneider’s solo homer in the sixth), got a brilliant pitching performance from newcomer Ryan Drese (eight innings, two hits) and survived a sweat-producing ninth from closer Chad Cordero.

Cordero, who seems to have made it his mission to put at least two men on in every save situation, did himself one better Wednesday. He loaded the bases with no one out and at one point even slipped off the mound as he delivered a pitch to Vladimir Guerrero.

How did Cordero respond? He struck out Steve Finley, got Bengie Molina to hit a shallow fly ball to center field and blew a 1-2 fastball by Dallas McPherson, prompting a chest-thumping, lungs-bellowing roar from the 23-year-old closer.

“I don’t know if [getting out of a bases-loaded jam] is a relief pitcher’s dream,” Cordero said. “But it certainly feels good when you can get out of it.”

Said Robinson: “That’s about as gutsy as it gets, really. You can’t get into a worse jam than that — bases loaded, nobody out, one-run ballgame, on the road. That’s about as tough as they get.”

So the jubilant Nationals rode their all-night charter to Texas for this weekend’s series against the Rangers with a three-game lead over second-place Philadelphia in the National League East.

And a reinvigorated right fielder.

“Jose Guillen is the real deal, guys,” Guillen said. “I’m a team player. I care about my teammates. I don’t think Mike Scioscia understood that last year. But we’ve got a manager here who understands that. We’ve got teammates who understand it, too. I’m a team player. I just play to win, with all my heart, every single day.”

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