- The Washington Times - Friday, June 3, 2005

For all the big hits and key at-bats, Washington outfielder Jose Guillen might have been the difference in the Nationals’ 8-6 comeback victory against the Atlanta Braves last night.

Washington trailed 6-3 in the eighth. It had just coughed up a 3-2 lead by giving up four runs in the top of the inning as Gary Majewski, the usually reliable set-up man, was roughed up after going 16 straight scoreless innings. Shortstop Cristian Guzman’s throwing error to first on the potential third out of the inning didn’t help, either.

But as they came off the field, Guillen exhorted the Nationals to fight back.

“We were fired up, man,” second baseman Jamey Carroll said. “Guillen was in there getting us all fired up. He said, ‘We can do it, we’re not gonna quit. Keep battling and good things will happen.’ ”

What happened was a dramatic victory for the Nationals as Washington won the series 3-1. The Nationals are now 1 games behind Atlanta and the Florida Marlins in the National League East.

“A big, big, big, huge, huge ballgame,” said Nationals manager Frank Robinson, who might have set some sort of record for consecutive adjectives. “It was the type of ballgame you can build some momentum on.”

The Nationals will need it, because the Marlins come to town for a three-game series starting tonight.

Veteran Carlos Baerga, who replaced Nick Johnson at first base after Johnson had to leave the game because of acid reflux, started the eighth-inning rally. Baerga worked the count to 3-2 off struggling reliever Dan Kolb, fouled off several pitches and drove in the first run of the inning.

Vinny Castilla doubled home a run to cut the Braves’ lead to 6-5, and after Kevin Gryboski came in to pitch and intentionally walked Marlon Byrd to load the bases, back-up catcher Gary Bennett promptly cleared them with a three-run double.

In the second inning, Bennett hit his first homer of the year, a two-run shot, to give the Nationals a 2-0 lead. His five RBI tied a career best.

“He got off to a good start and he put the finishing touches on it at the end,” Robinson said. “But don’t forget about the other guys in-between.”

Reliever Hector Carrasco, who came in for Majewski, got the victory.

“It was a tremendous psychological win, if there’s such a thing,” Robinson said. “We certainly needed that. The players came in after that [top of the] eighth inning and they didn’t hang their heads. They weren’t quiet. They said, ‘This is not gonna happen.’ ”

Back in April in Atlanta, the Nationals staged a ninth-inning comeback to beat Kolb, who came to the Braves from Milwaukee and was expected to fill the closer role. Instead, Kolb has had a miserable time of it.

“We know he’s been having some problems,” Carroll said.

On Wednesday, with a depleted bullpen, the Nationals blew a 4-2 lead in the eighth and lost to the Braves 5-4. Guillen said he reminded his teammates that late-inning letdowns are unforgiveable.

“That cannot be happening,” he said. “This is the big leagues. Hopefully, we learned from the last two days that it’s not over after six or seven innings. We’ve still got to go out there and play.”

Bennett said he did not hear Guillen, “but I guess it worked.” He said he was too busy looking for another bat after breaking the previous one.

“It seems like it’s someone different every night,” he said. “That’s the key for us. We’re not relying on one guy.”

Nationals starter Esteban Loaiza continued to pitch well in another non-decision. He remained stuck at 1-4 despite yielding just two runs in six innings. The right-hander lowered his earned run average to 3.56, which is better than that of teammate Livan Hernandez, who is 8-2. Loaiza has the worst run support of any pitcher in the major leagues.

Even after taking three out of four from the Braves, Robinson said the Nationals will have to play better against the Marlins.

“These guys will run you, bunt you, club you, pitch you,” he said.

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