- The Washington Times - Monday, September 5, 2005

The new theme song for the Washington Nationals?

“The Sounds of Silence.”

No music in the Nationals clubhouse has turned out to be music to the ears of this team. Since manager Frank Robinson pulled the plug on “American Bandstand,” his team won two out of three in one of the most important series it has played this year, finishing off Philadelphia 6-1 at RFK Stadium yesterday and cutting the Phillies’ lead in the wild-card race to two games.

There was a good deal of grousing over the crackdown by Robinson, which was a gamble he had to take. Going into the final month of the season, with so many games ahead that meant so much, he realized everything the Nationals had accomplished was slipping away. The manager felt he needed to do something to jar his team.

So after Thursday’s 8-7 loss to the Atlanta Braves, Robinson declared something like, “This isn’t Studio 54. It’s a baseball clubhouse. No more entourages. No more MTV.”

Sept. 1, 2005 — the day the music died.

It appears to have worked. But had the Nationals lost to the Phillies on Saturday night — they blew a 4-1 lead in the ninth inning but won 5-4 on a Preston Wilson RBI single in the 12th — Robinson might as well have then hired a deejay. At least the music would have drowned out the ugliness and tension that likely would have engulfed the clubhouse.

“That was a big, big turn for us by getting that win,” said catcher Brian Schneider, who had a big turn at the plate for the Nationals yesterday with a three-run home run in the second inning.

Now, it is not as if the Nationals were all sitting in front of their lockers before yesterday’s game, basking in silence, reading over scouting reports and getting their minds right for the task at hand. There was music. It’s just that nobody else could hear it.

Remember the saying about the old Boston Red Sox? Twenty-five guys, 25 cabs? The Nationals are 25 guys, 25 IPods.

But the music edict seems to have served its purpose — a slap in the face to make the team realize what is important at this stage of the season. And it is not which CD is spinning in the player.

“I just think they had to get down to business and pay attention to the game itself and not all this side stuff and outside stuff and stuff out in the street,” Robinson said. “They had to focus on playing baseball. That was my view of it. I think they are starting to do that.

“When you have success, everything looks good, and when you don’t, nothing looks good. But I really like the approach and the attitude the last couple of days and the spirit of the ballclub. Hopefully, they understand what they have to do.”

They have four games starting today at RFK with the Florida Marlins, who remain 1 games ahead of Washington in the wild-card standings.

“We understand what is ahead of us and what we have to do,” Robinson said. “We have to win at least two, and we need to win three — but no worse than two.”

There were “Good Vibrations” yesterday in the clubhouse, but Robinson still kept things quiet. “They asked if they could turn on the music today, and I said, ‘No, you haven’t done anything yet. Turn it on Oct.1 or Oct.3.”

There weren’t any visible complaints.

“If we keep winning, no one is going to care about the rules,” Schneider said.

But there has been a perception the clubhouse has been on the brink of falling apart. Robinson said he doesn’t believe it.

“I don’t think the clubhouse was on the edge [of unraveling],” he said. “I just think their attention was elsewhere.”

Everything about the Washington Nationals is on edge on the field, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone they would be the same way off the field, particularly after 137 games. Playing with such a small margin of error has to take a toll.

Carlos Baerga, whose job in the clubhouse is to safeguard against frayed nerves, said some despair emerged, the sense the Nationals had worked so hard for a season starting to fall apart.

“We weren’t winning games that we should have won, and we were making mistakes,” he said. “If you really care, you are going to be mad about stuff like that, and that has been the case. The whole year we have been around first or second place, and no one wants to see that go away now.”

Baerga is a veteran of the 1990s Cleveland Indians teams with Albert Belle and Kenny Lofton that always were on the verge of exploding, even when they were winning. He said he doesn’t see any problems in the Nationals clubhouse but acknowledged players don’t have to like each other to win.

“There are 25 guys that have different minds and ways of doing things, and things are going to happen over 162 games,” he said. “But every time we step on the field, that is a different situation, and we need to care about each other.”

At least more than about their play list.

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