Thursday, April 13, 2006

This was what they all came to see, why more than 5,000 fans waited hours in line to buy day-of-game tickets and were willing to miss several innings to do so.

Bottom of the sixth. One-run game. Bases loaded. One out. Pedro Martinez on the mound. Jose Guillen at the plate.

The scenario everyone at RFK Stadium had hoped for — yet never honestly believed would happen — was playing out right before their eyes.

And once again, Martinez proved why he’s still baseball’s most-dynamic pitcher.

The New York Mets ace got his Washington Nationals right fielder and arch-enemy to ground into an inning-ending double play, the signature moment of last night’s 3-1 Mets victory before 29,985.

“You have to tip your hat to him,” said Guillen, who finished 0-for-3 against Martinez. “He pitched a great game. They beat us again.”

If only that was the end of the story.

Instead of the Pedro-Guillen feud or even the Nationals’ woeful 2-7 record, the post-game talk around the home clubhouse was dominated by complaints about RFK’s monstrous outfield, which once again swallowed up a couple of potential Washington home runs.

This was a recurring theme in 2005, when the Nationals hit the fewest home runs at home (46) in the majors since the 1993 Florida Marlins. But when Jose Vidro, the organization’s longest-tenured and perhaps most-respected player, brought the subject up last night, he took it to a whole new level.

“It killed us last year, and it’s going to kill us again this year,” said Vidro, who did hit a solo home run to right field in the fourth inning. “The organization didn’t really look deep into it last year. They saw what happened, and they didn’t change anything. So I guess they didn’t care about it, and it’s going to hurt us again this year. I guarantee you. …

“This is not by any means a major-league ballpark. This is a — you could call this an airplane field. This is not baseball-type dimensions.”

The Nationals still list RFK’s dimensions as 335 feet down the lines, 380 feet to the gaps and 410 feet to center field. It was discovered last season that the true measurements to the power alleys were about 395 feet, but Nationals president Tony Tavares said no serious consideration was given to moving the fences in this winter.

“Both teams played here tonight,” Tavares said after being told of Vidro’s remarks. “One scored three runs, the other scored one run. It’s a pitcher’s park. They’re 2-7. They’re frustrated and they’re making excuses. The best thing everybody can do is just look in the mirror at themselves.”

RFK’s prime victim last night was Nick Johnson, who twice launched balls deep to center field off Martinez only to watch each be caught at the warning track.

“I hit them good, but I played here last year,” Johnson said. “If you hit a ball to center, you’ve got to crush it. I hit them good, I squared it, but you’ve got to put a charge into it.”

Guillen, too, thought he might have been robbed when he hit a first-inning shot to the warning track in center that was caught. The Washington right fielder’s bigger at-bat, though, came five innings later against the mighty Martinez in a showdown between the two key figures from last week’s beanball war at Shea Stadium.

With warnings issued by umpires well in advance, there were no close calls last night.

Rather than pitch inside, Martinez (2-0) used the outside of the plate to his advantage, forcing Washington to hit the ball to the big part of the field. The result: One night after totaling one run and three hits in their home opener, the Nationals (2-7) had a similarly dubious performance.

Their best chance to do some damage came in the fateful sixth, when Martinez gave up a leadoff single to Brian Schneider, walked pinch-hitter Marlon Anderson and then froze upon fielding Brandon Watson’s sacrifice-bunt attempt.

Down 2-1 at the time, the Nationals couldn’t have asked for a better situation, with Vidro and Guillen coming to the plate. Vidro, though, struck out swinging at a high-and-outside fastball for the first out. Guillen followed by bouncing Martinez’s 2-1 fastball to short for a tailor-made, inning-ending double play.

“You had the people up there you wanted at the plate,” manager Frank Robinson said. “Right in the order where you’d like to have it, and the people you expect to be productive for you. It was all set, our breakout inning, but we didn’t get it.”

That was the last shot Washington had. Martinez departed at the start of the eighth, and relievers Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner made quick work of the game’s final two innings.

Thus, the Pedro-Guillen feud, which sparked a week’s worth of hype, proved to be a one-sided affair. Each participant spoke highly of the other afterward.

“I don’t hold any grudges,” Martinez said. “He’s probably bitter still, but I’m just going to continue to pray for him and hopefully he will get better and his temper will change. I’m not going to say anything bad. I still have respect for his bat — he’s a good hitter — and I’m just going to continue to do what I have to do.”

“They win,” Guillen said. “It’s over.”

Guillen quickly corrected himself.

“It’s not over, but they win.”

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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