- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2005

PITTSBURGH — Jose Guillen has played for plenty of organizations in his major league career, seven to be precise, and more often than not has been remembered at each of those stops for the wrong reasons. Just ask the Los Angeles Angels.

It should be noted, however, that Guillen isn’t on bad terms with all his former employers. In fact, before last night’s game at PNC Park, the Washington Nationals right fielder went out of his way to speak highly of the Pittsburgh Pirates — the organization that first signed him as a 17-year-old from the Dominican Republic.

Guillen made his major league debut here in 1997 and eventually moved his family here.

“I have some great memories here,” he said. “This is one of the places that I can never forget. It’s always fun when I come to play here.”

Apparently so. Awash in good vibes on his first trip to the Steel City this year, Guillen went out and played one of his best games of the season. He crushed two home runs at the cavernous ballpark, pacing the Nationals to a 7-4 victory over the Pirates before a crowd of 21,893 that treated him far more favorably than the boo-birds in Anaheim, Calif., did last week.

Guillen twice went deep over the center-field fence, his team-leading 12th and 13th home runs of the year, and helped make life easy for Washington starter Livan Hernandez, who cruised to his team-leading 10th win.

He also helped make this game easy for manager Frank Robinson to watch from an unusual vantage point: the stands. Robinson served his one-game suspension last night for his involvement in last week’s fracas against the Angels. His appeal was denied by Major League Baseball earlier in the afternoon.

“It’s no fun,” he said. “It’s a different situation, and you’re not used to it. You’re used to being in the dugout and being involved in the game.”

With Robinson on the outside looking in, it was up to bench coach Eddie Rodriguez to add this victory to his career managerial record. He’s now 2-0, having previously led the Expos to a late-season win over the Mets in 2004.

Rodriguez didn’t have to make many decisions of consequence last night. The Nationals staked him to a five-run lead after five innings, then hung on as the Pirates tried to stage a late rally.

“It makes it easy for any manager when you have a 6-1 lead,” Rodriguez said. “You manage at a much easier pace.”

Guillen was front-and-center for his play on the field, not his comments off it for a change. He belted an 0-1 pitch from Pittsburgh’s Mark Redman (4-5) to center field for a first-inning solo homer. He added another one in the fifth, this time landing his shot slightly to the left and into the Nationals’ bullpen.

“I’m just so happy I was not in Washington,” Guillen said as a joke, referring to the fact he has just one homer at RFK Stadium. “Those would not even be close to the warning track there.”

This was a sweet homecoming for Guillen, who played his first 2 seasons in Pittsburgh at the now-bulldozed Three Rivers Stadium and still feels bad about the day in 1999 he was traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Guillen settled in nicely and even moved members of his family here — some of whom still reside in the area — once he became an established major leaguer. The Pirates made sure his father, Eluido, received proper medical care during his unsuccesful two-year battle with prostate cancer, and Guillen remains grateful to the organization.

“I don’t have anything bad to say about this town and these people here,” he said. “This organization really did a lot for me when I was going through those problems in ‘97 and ‘98. So I appreciate it a lot, from the ownership group here to the fans.”

Guillen may remember those early days with the Pirates fondly, but he wouldn’t trade his spot on the Nationals’ roster for anything right now. With last night’s win, Washington (41-29) increased its lead in the National League East to three games over the idle Philadelphia Phillies.

Guillen had plenty of help from his teammates. Cristian Guzman continued his recent hot streak from the right side of the plate, lofting a two-run double off the wall in center field and adding a triple to right-center in the eighth. Brad Wilkerson helped pad the lead with a two-run single in the fourth.

That proved to be enough support for Hernandez (10-2), who used four double plays to hold the Pirates to one run through six innings but had to gut his way through a three-run seventh before departing. Gary Majewski came out of the bullpen to pitch a scoreless eighth, and Chad Cordero came on in the ninth to earn his 22nd save.

“Any day, seven innings is good for me,” said Hernandez, who has double-digit wins before the All-Star break for the first time in his career. “I want to continue to work and see how many more I can get in the first half.”

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