- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — Even if the game didn’t count, it was a great day for the Washington Nationals.

The Nationals notched their first victory of any kind by beating the New York Mets 5-3 yesterday at Space Coast Stadium. In the process, right fielder Jose Guillen, the club’s biggest offseason acquisition, delivered a monstrous home run, while starting pitcher Tony Armas Jr., plagued by shoulder problems over most of two seasons, looked relaxed and composed in two hitless innings.

A lot of positive things happened on the field — and the Nationals looked good doing them. Unlike most exhibition games, Washington showed off its sharp regular-season home uniforms for a sellout crowd of 7,558 and a national television audience.

“It felt good to get a game under your belt, number one, and look down and see what’s across your chest is ‘Nationals,’ representing a new city,” manager Frank Robinson said. “It was all good to get that up and out of the way, even though the main thing comes during the regular season.”

Actually, the exhibition opener felt like Opening Day, with more than 100 media people and ESPN’s cameras on hand as a Washington team took the field for the first time since 1971.

Former Angels slugger Guillen, whom interim general manager Jim Bowden acquired in an offseason trade, sounded an optimistic watchword for the new club to reporters: “I promise you guys good things are going to happen. I promise.”

The Dominican native showed his opposite-field power when he drove Aaron Heilman’s fastball over the right-center field fence to tie the game 2-2 in the fourth inning. One of Robinson’s offseason wishes was for an outfielder who can drive in more than 100 runs. Guillen’s power display was an encouraging sign in his debut as cleanup hitter.

“I’m a strong man, too,” Guillen said. “I’m 5-feet-11 and 230 pounds, and a lot of people look at me as a short guy, but it’s a blessing from God to have this type of power and the ability to hit the ball like that.”

Armas, the rotation’s projected No. 2 starter, threw 28 pitches in his two innings. He went 2-4 with a 4.88 ERA for the Montreal Expos last season but wasn’t fully healed after missing most of 2003 because of rotator cuff surgery.

Armas is being called a key to the Nationals’ success this season. During winter ball in his native Venezuela, he proved his shoulder is healed by allowing just two earned runs in 14 innings.

Shortstop Cristian Guzman did his bit in the trivia department by getting the Nationals’ first hit, a first-inning single up the middle against Mets veteran Tom Glavine.

“I don’t think about getting the first hit in Nationals history — I’m thinking about getting a base hit and doing my job,” Guzman insisted.

There were other positives for the Nationals. Reliever Chad Cordero struck out the side in the ninth inning to pick up the save. Relievers T.J. Tucker, Gary Majewski, Luis Ayala, and Cordero held the improved Mets, one of Washington’s National league East rivals, to one hit over the final four innings.

Fans in Washington are excited about baseball — more than 20,000 full-season ticket plans have been sold for RFK Stadium — and the players can feel it.

“I had a chance to talk to a couple people, and they said they flew all the way down here from Washington just to see the first game,” Cordero said. “That right there shows how excited everybody is up there, and we’re just as excited as everybody else.”

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